THE BEHAVIOR: Your child doesn't listen. You ask your son to get ready for bed, and he just sits there pretending not to hear you. Or you ask your daughter to pick her clothes up off the floor, and she says, "I will... later," but it never gets done unless you do it for her. It's time to leave but your little one refuses to come out of the pool.
Not listening is right up there at the top of the list of things that drive parents crazy. "Go to your room and don't come out until you're ready to behave." "How many times do I have to ask?" "Okay, I'm leaving now... good-bye, I said I'm leaving now... you've got to the count of three to get out of the pool!"
THE PROBLEM: Kids have learned that they don't have to cooperate right away. Most of us start off asking our kids to do something nicely, and if they don't listen we ask a second time using a louder and firmer tone of voice and then we escalate to threats, "If you don't come to the table this instant you won't get any desert!"
When begging, pleading and bribery fails, we do what any desperate parent would do—we blow up. We yell, rant and rave and dole out punishments that are impossible to impose. "You can't watch television for a month." Or, "I'm never taking you swimming again." Kids like to feel powerful, and seeing mom and dad pitch a fit is worth the consequences. In addition, many of today's parenting styles lead to adversarial relationships between parents and kids.
THE SOLUTION: Think in terms of teaching your kids to listen instead of punishing them for ignoring you. I suggest parents teach their kids to listen using the A, B, C and D's.
A. Ask in a no-kidding-around tone of voice
B. Be clear and specific
C. Communicate your request in six words or less
D. Don't make not listening an option
For instance, if you ask the kids to get ready for bed and they tune you out, say, "Bedtime. Please, turn the television off." Don't walk away and hope the kids will do as they're told. Stay with them until it's done. Turn off the television yourself if needed, and just thank the kids for listening. Don't yell, don't threaten the kids, just do it. Be creative. Getting ready for bed can be turned into a game, or you can give the kids motivation to cooperate by saying, "Go get ready for bed and choose the book you want me to read."
HINT: Be realistic. It will take time for your kids to become better listeners, and it may very well take you time to learn to stay calm. In the meantime, be on the lookout for small improvements and make sure you praise your child for listening up.