“And the lion pounced upon the donkey and …” My six-year-old son’s eyes were wide with wonder as he hung on to my every word as I narrated a story before bedtime. If only he would listen as attentively when I instructed him to turn off the TV or finish his food or complete his homework or pick up his toys. No. Ignoring mom is an art form children today excel at. Meanwhile repeating instructions has become a way of life for moms until the instructions turn into a screaming order, swiftly followed by guilt.
Is he deliberately being rude and disrespectful by ignoring me? Unlikely. He is just exercising his sense of control where he can. Children follow an array of instructions at school and when they come back home, to their safe place, they want to unwind. So how do you get them to listen without losing your composure?
- Grab their attention: How? Just stand in front of the TV if they refuse to peel their eyes off it. Or tap them on the shoulder. Or if you are feeling funny, crack an out-of-context, funny one-liner. Ensure you have their attention before you give an instruction, or you might find yourself talking to the walls.
- Reason: Children are more likely to follow your instruction if you didn’t say it like an instruction. If you want your child to not touch the breakables at a shop, tell him it will break and then mummy will have to pay for it. If that still doesn’t bother him, tell him it will come out of his allowance. That should ring a bell. If you impress upon children that the instruction in question is for their own good, it will get them moving in the right (or your) direction.
- Give them control: We all love choices. Choices make children feel powerful and in control of their lives. So if you want your child to do something, give her a choice. Don’t ask, “do you want to have a mango?” Ask, “do you want to have a mango or an apple?” A choice is a clever way of ensuring she eats a fruit yet, at the same time, you are giving her control over her choices.
- Express your expectations: Sometimes children make plans of their own and when you suddenly tell them of your plan that is disrupting their plan, they get upset and stubborn. So tell them in advance. If you both have to leave for some place, inform your child so she can plan accordingly and is not unpleasantly surprised by your plans.
- Cause and effect: Now this is not punishment but an important lesson in how one action (or lack thereof) leads to another. Sometimes, cause and effect is not learnt with words as portrayed in point 2. If you have to take your child for a birthday party and he is reluctant to collect his toys, tell him you will wait until he finishes his chore but he might miss most of the games at the party if he takes too long. He might throw an out-of-proportion tantrum but if you can stay strong one time and ensure he experiences the consequences (of missing the party), you’d have imparted a valuable lesson. Make sure you discuss the consequences after they have occurred to reiterate the learning (preferably when your son is calm).
- Don’t overwhelm: Children feel overburdened by chores sometimes. So choose your battles carefully. If he has left a pencil on the floor or thrown the garbage outside the bin, overlook. There are more important things like homework, piano practice or mealtimes. If you check them on everything, you may have a mutiny on your hands.
- Tit for tat: My son and I have often found to my chagrin that I pretend to listen to his interpretation of the battle between Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan. Children are extremely perceptive; they know when you listen and when you don’t. So if you can’t extend the courtesy of giving undivided attention to your child, don’t expect him to listen to you either. Listening is a two-way street.
A child who listens to you makes your life so much easier, your relationship so much harmonious and your day so very efficient. Listening is a crucial part of good communication skills. Good listeners are usually great leaders, perceptive spouses, beloved friends and nurturing parents. Imbibe this skill in your children early in life, for their good and of course your own.