How Can I Get My Kids to Listen?

I am a stay at home mom. My kids are 13, 12, 10 and 7. My problem is that my children are not listening to me and do not follow my instructions, except when they see me angry. They do listen to my husband right away. I feel things are getting out of control and I would like some suggestions on how to turn this situation around.

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

In order to gain the respect and cooperation of your children, you must consider consequences other than your escalating anger. Clearly they believe their father means what he says. Why is this so? You will benefit from observing the congruency of your husband's communication (verbal and nonverbal) and the follow through that occurs if they do not do as he says.

Your children will respond to you if: 1) there are clear and consistent consequences for not doing so, 2) you are giving clear messages regarding what you expect, 3) your expectations are age appropriate and 4) there are no messages that would undermine your authority in the family. In other words, it is important that your husband reinforce your authority to the children. This will assure that they will not go to the other parent for the same request the first parent has just denied.

Explore your own childhood role models for clues to what is ineffective in your current parenting style. What were the rules in your childhood and how were they upheld? Was your mother effective in her communication in the family? Were both parents capable of disciplining the children? Or was one of your parents inconsistent in maintaining the rules? If your Mom was the "softie" in the family, you probably did not respect her authority because she lacked follow-through.

This is the most common cause for your current problem. It is also possible that if you do play the "softie" you get something out of it in which may be advantageous or convenient for you in the short run. But you pay the price of inconsistency in the long term when you resort to angry yelling to try to "get them to listen this time". In these circumstances, children are left to observe whether you "really mean it" by how angry you look or how loudly you shout! This wears you out and it literally means that the consequence becomes how angry you are. No wonder you might feel that things are getting "out of control". This puts you and them on an emotional roller coaster. Instead, decide what the rules are and be consistent in what you ask of them.

Helpful books on parenting such as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish or Discipline Without Spanking or Shouting by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell may also be helpful. Keep in mind the guiding rule of consistent consequences.

Discipline is most effective when carried out calmly and matter-of-factly. Say what you mean and mean what you say!

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