Rage. When you have to repeat yourself a bazillion times, that’s all you see. Here’s how to get kids to listen without yelling.
You know how some afternoons seem like non-stop fights with your kids?
I do. I feel like a constant nag.
Like the other day, I asked my son to unload the dishwasher. What would usually be a 2-minute task turned into 30 minutes of him complaining how his stomach hurt and he couldn’t do it.
How he thought he might have to go the doctor…
That the dishwasher was too big of a job and he was “too bored”
And yet, I felt like I only have two choices:
- either repeat the same request calmly,
- or try to refute every one of his excuses.
Either choice makes me angry. What usually happens is that I get fed up, yell, “Just do it” and then go cry on the sofa.
That doesn’t exactly make me feel like an empowered parent.
We need to have lots of tricks and tools we can turn to when this parenting game gets rough.
Options that work much, MUCH better and will get our kids to listen without yelling.
(I know because I turn to these now EVERY time!)
These suggestions come from what is turning into one of my absolutely favorite parenting books, “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.”
Do they work the same each time?
No. But 90% of the time I can usually get cooperation from my kiddos the first time I ask.
But first a word of warning…
Not what you say, but how you say it
If this is a change from how you usually approach making requests of your kids, they will recognize something is up.
Don’t make the mistake that you need to say all of these in a patient and calm voice. You can get kids to listen without yelling while still showing emotion.
I did that at first and frankly, my kids didn’t take my requests seriously. I can see why.
If mom is completely calm about the situation, what’s the urgency for me to do it?
You are allowed to show emotion.
I’m allowed to show emotion.
If something irritates me, I’m allowed to be snippy. It’s expected. Only space aliens can control their emotions at a Martha Stewart level.
That said, here’s how we can “ask” our kids to do something without having it escalate into a fight.
Describe the situation
How much do you and I like to be told what to do?
Me? Not so much.
If my husband told me, “JoAnn, you need to wash the dishes” or “JoAnn, did you remember to feed the dog?” I would go nuclear.
Why? Because in asking someone to do stuff constantly, we are assuming that they don’t see the problem (or are too stupid to see the problem).
We retreat. We get defensive and we push back.
That’s what our kids are doing.
Instead, it works better to describe the situation and have your child come to his or her own conclusion of what needs to be done.
With the dishwasher situation, instead of repeatedly asking my kids to unload the dishwasher, I might say.”
“Cam and Erik, the dishwasher is full of clean dishes”
With filling the dog’s water:
“Lily’s looking really thirsty”
When they need to feed the dog,
“Lily is staring at me like she’s hungry.”
When we describe the situation, our kids come to their own conclusions of what needs to be done.
Explain the Consequences
Say, your child does something all the time that drives you crazy. You ask them over and over again not to and yet it still happens.
Maybe, they don’t know the “Why” behind your request.
For instance, we had this problem where my daughter would pack her lunch the night before and then put it in her backpack.
A lunch that definitely needed to be refrigerated.
We repeatedly told her, “Cam that needs to be refrigerated.” or “Cam. you need to make a new lunch because it wasn’t in the refrigerator.”
Understandably, she would get mad.
It was not until we told her, “When you leave your lunch out overnight, bacteria can grow and then when you eat it, you’ll get sick.”
She now remembers to put her lunch in the fridge. Victory! And when she doesn’t, she knows it was her responsibility and then calmly throws it away to remake it.
Did your parents or teachers ever give you insanely long lectures about why you shoudn’t do something?
What was your reaction?
Did you immediately reform your wicked ways?
…. Or did you simply tune them out?
I know that when Sister Mary Louise yelled at me for taking a snack from someone else’s lunchbox, I didn’t listen to anything other than what I interpreted as her underlying message: I must be a bad person.
Now, I was a super sensitive kid. But this is what our kids take from our lectures – boredom, anger or feelings of inadequacy. None of which are good motivators.
When all we really want is for them to simply do what we ask.
Usually, this can be accomplished in one word.
Dishes. (For my ever-present dishwasher struggle.)
Many times, one word will do. Our kids will remember what we want done and (hopefully) do it.
Write a note
I have not yet tried this, but oh boy, am I excited.
The premise of writing a note is for those times when you are so upset or have asked your child to do something so many times and NOTHING has changed the behavior.
The cool thing is that it’s easy to insert humor here.
For instance, I get beyond frustrated that my daughter throws all of her stuff in this corner of the family room when she comes home from school. So this little note is waiting for her when she gets home today.
Or that this pile of clothes has been her outside the shower for a week.
OK.. I may have gone a little overboard. (And yes, the bottom of my shower is disgusting. If you are here for cleaning tips, you’ve come to the wrong place 🙂
This works on kids who can’t yet read yet, too. Just make your sign simple and they will come ask you what it says.
They also might surprise you that they’ll do what it’s asking right away.
Express your feelings
Remember, not a robot?
It’s OK for our kids to know when we’re mad. We just need to express our feelings in a way that both communicates the feeling clearly and doesn’t shame the child.
For instance, anytime I crouch on the ground, my son takes that as his cue to climb on top of me.
I need to pick up something I dropped… BAM! Four-year-old is trying to mount my shoulders.
It gets old real fast.
To stop that behavior, I’m going to try turning to him and say, “It annoys me when you try to climb me.”
I won’t yell. I won’t tell him, “Get off” repeatedly. I’ll simply state how I feel.
And if he chooses to ignore that next time, I can use one of the other tactics, such as one word: Climbing.
Parenting is a hard job. The fact that its filled with so much uncertainty makes us feel guilty about our natural reactions and constantly doubt whether we’re doing a good job.
You are doing an excellent job. Just the fact that you’re reading this and trying to add to your parenting toolbox means you are a good parent.
These five tricks will help you get more cooperation from your kids. Some may work better than others because every child – every day – is different.
But by describing the situation, leaving notes, using one-word reminders, expressing your feelings and explaining consequences, you are doing your best to raise a socially aware child.