As parents we have a lot of challenges and one I get asked all the time is, “How do I get my kid(s) to listen the first time I say something?” You know what I mean, not the third, fifth, twelfth or when I lose my cool and yell? I've got 5 tips today that I think will be helpful.
Number 1 – learn to think like a child. Sound simple? Well, here is what I mean. Why should your kids listen to you? Now, you've got 12 reasons why they should, but you are an adult, you are a parent. You've got all this life experience and you know all the reasons why they should listen. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about why should your child listen to you?
In their mind, why should they from their perspective listen to you? If you can't come up with a good reason why they should listen to you from their perspective, they probably can't either. They don't think like you do. Kids are in different developmental stages, but for the most part, kids are very efficient in their thinking. When they hear something, that is going to interfere with their regular plan, they are going to put it in a little algorithm where they get to decide, hmm… should I listen to this or not? Is this important or not? Why? Should I do this thing versus can I keep doing what I'm doing? Do you see how the child is thinking?
If they are doing something fun already, and you have just invited them to do something that's not so much fun, why would they do that? Well, they wouldn't. That's the point. This is more fun. So, from that child's perspective, learning to think like a child helps us to approach this in a way that gives them a compelling reason to listen and to respond the first time. They might be weighing it out should I listen now or should I wait until mom’s really serious? How can I tell if she's really serious? Oh yeah, she yells. That's why they trained us to yell.
So, from that child's perspective, why should I listen to mom? Why should I do this the first time? Let's give them a really good reason to do that. Usually that's tied to the consequence. We'll come back to that in a bit.
Now, let's go to number 2 – manage your affect. Manage your own affect. Your emotions. Affect is the psychological word for feelings or emotions. Manage your own. If you're freaking out, if you are yelling and screaming, then you are out of control. Getting our kids to listen the first time, implies that we as parents, are coming at this from a place of what Nicholeen Peck calls a calm face, calm voice, calm body. That means you're controlling yourself.
That mode is something really important for your children to see and it also allows you to stay in a position of power as a parent because when you have a calm face, calm voice, calm body, you are in control. If you are out of control, why should your kids listen to you? Well, they are probably not going to is my point because now you are out of control. They will just kind of chill until they can see that they need to pay attention. Coming at it from a calm voice, face and body, communicates a real sense of power to that child and it helps to keep you in a position of power as a parent. Manage your affect.
Number 3. Now this is where it gets really exciting and powerful. We are going to tie consequences to communication. In other words, what we are communicating is a reasonable predictor right now for that child of what consequences are on the way.
If you ever had an introductory psychology class, you probably learned about Pavlov and his dogs. In this experiment, Pavlov would ring a bell just before introducing food to the animal. They had some crazy apparatus that puffed a little meat powder or something into the dog's mouth, right after the bell sounded. Well, what happened is the dog, started to pair the consequence with the communication. The communication being the bell, ping! puff of meat powder, which caused the dog to salivate. Ping! Food. Ping! Food. We're pairing the consequence to the communication.
What happened after that? Eventually Pavlov could just do the ping and the dog would salivate, without the food being introduced at all. This is called a conditioned response. It's behavioral psychology. It's how we train our brain to respond to certain things. What we are trying to do with our child is ping the request and consequence. In other words, if I don't respond, I get a negative consequence. If I do respond, they get a positive consequence. Hmm… which one goes better for me? I say something to my child, boom they respond. Why? Because we've trained them that the communication is followed by a consequence. Their behavior matters because the kind of consequence they get is determined by what their behavior is, that is what I mean by pairing the communication with the consequence.
This ties right into number 4 and this is one I've mentioned before as well – turn our words from garbage into gold. We want to increase the value of the words that we are using. The way that we do that is what we talked about in number 3 as we tie the communication to the consequence. Teach kids that there is some important reason to listen to what we are communicating because it is going to predict some kind of a consequence for me and I better pay attention to that.
Normally, what happens here is that we get into a trap as parents. Kids start to esteem our words to be garbage instead of gold. Why? Because we say something and then nothing in particular happens and then we say it again and nothing in particular happens and then we say it again usually a little louder and nothing in particular happens and when it gets to a certain level or volume, that's when the lights go on for the kid and he's like, “Oh, time to pay attention because now something's going to happen.”
What was the message we delivered? Our words are garbage and I need to pay attention to the tone of voice. Kids are pretty bright. We want to reverse that training and get them to see our words as gold not garbage. That means the words are delivered and the consequence shows up. The words are gold to me if they predict what's going to happen. Take the tone of voice out of it. Our tone is always calm and pleasant. Remember number 2? Manage your affect. calm voice, calm face, calm body and that's how we are going to turn the words from garbage into gold.
Now, one final one and this gets back to our main job as a parent. What is your job as a parent? It's to love them no matter what and even if. Love them no matter what me even if. So step number 5 let's put it this way, work on the relationship. The relationship is the most important thing. Kids need to know that they have someone in their life who is more powerful than they are. There are reasons why that's important. Who loves them? You think about how you feel if you know that there is someone in your life who is more powerful than you are and loves you. Oh wow! That is a great position to be in. We want to provide that for our children. So, as we work on the relationship and remember, our job is to love them no matter what and even if. That solidifies a position for them where when we speak, they listen.
Can we get our kids to respond the first time? Well, sure we can if we've got that kind of a relationship and if we are using some of the other principles we have talked about. You've got this. Parenting is one of those challenging things and we can partner together to get you and your kids through it calmer. Go to www.drpauljenkins, to see what resources we have to help you.