“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
“I might as well be talking to a brick wall!”
“In one ear and out the other.”
Clearly, kids who don’t listen is a thing. We have tons of cultural idioms about not listening, and they’re often used to describe children. Some of this probably comes from a combination of immaturity and the fact that they are still developing habits like attention. But in my own family, I notice it’s something I do that actually teaches my children not to listen.
I repeat myself.
For awhile, I found myself saying the same things over and over again, all day long. Clean your room, clean your room, clean your room. Brush your teeth, brush your teeth, brush your teeth. Even non-commands, like, “Do you want to play outside? Hello? Do you want to play outside?”
Why This Is A Bad Habit
Saying things over and over again teaches our children that they don’t need to listen the first time. Why would our children bother to pay attention to us the first time if they’re going to hear it over and over again? Not listening ultimately leads to not obeying the first time, which is a habit of the utmost importance during the early years.
She (Mother) never lets the matter be a source of friction between herself and the child, taking the line of his friendly ally to help him against that bad memory of his.” page 123
A friendly ally doesn’t nag, she gently guides. So how do we gently guide our children towards listening to us the first time?
What You Can Do Instead of Repeating Yourself
- Make eye contact with your child when you’re talking to him or her. Don’t break that contact until it’s clear your child hears and understands you.
- Ask your child to repeat what you say (an early form of narration!)
- Don’t respond right away if your child says, “What?” Kids sometimes say this automatically when they really did hear you. Is it possible that they heard you and just don’t understand? If that’s the case, repeating yourself won’t help!
- Don’t confuse listening with obeying. Children need to listen in order to obey, but they aren’t the same. Be sure to be clear about this with your child. If you want them to listen, help them learn how to listen. If you want them to obey you, teach them obedience.
- If your child truly did not hear you, they might need help with the habit of attention.
After working on this for about a year, we have made huge progress. I’ve learned to pause after Miss H says, “What?” to give her some time to process what I’ve said. In cases of obedience, I look at her until she begins to follow my directions to be sure that she heard me and is planning to obey. It amazes me that such a simple change can make such a big difference in my children’s ability, and willingness, to listen.