You can hear yourself — you know you sound like a broken record, like Charlie Brown’s teacher. You’re frustrated. You’re drained. You’ve asked them over and over to do the simplest tasks and they still aren’t listening.
If you’re tired of ragging on and nagging your kids, read on for experts’ tips on how to get your kids to not only hear you, but to listen.
Why won’t they listen?
There’s not a mom out there who is going to say she enjoys nagging. But most moms will probably agree they’ve done it. So, why are you repeating yourself so many times? Why isn’t your child listening? Marcy Axness, Ph.D., says one of the most frequent questions she gets asked is, “How do I get my child to respect me?” “What they’re really asking is, ‘How do I get her to do what I tell her to do?,'” says Axness.
Obviously, there’s not one reason why a child doesn’t always do what he’s told. (If there were, there wouldn’t be a need for this article!) But before you look at your child as the problem, you need to first look at yourself.
What kind of example are you setting?
“A client of mine was saying her 7-year-old daughter was being disrespectful, and I think I stunned her by asking her point blank: ‘do you behave in a way that inspires respect?’ (We teach our children how we want them to be, first and foremost, through how we behave.) When she really got honest about it, the answer was ‘no,'” says Axness.
“The young child learns primarily through imitation, taking our cues about everything, and becoming our most exquisite mirrors — so always ask yourself, ‘Am I worthy of my child’s unquestioning imitation?’ If you can answer yes, then you have resolved ninety-five percent of your discipline issues before they even materialize,” adds Axness.
Consider your child’s age
Obviously, your teenager and your toddler have different reasons for not listening to you. When you’re repeating yourself to your little one, Leslie Petruk, child and family therapist, says you must consider three things that could be at the root. None of those things are likely disobedience. “When a younger child is not listening, it’s usually because: 1) they are tired 2) they are hungry 3) they are emotionally overwhelmed and don’t know how to handle their emotions.”
“Children have a natural desire to please the adults in their world. Often times, a child’s saying ‘no!’ or ‘me do it!’ is misunderstood as defiant or disobedient behavior.”
Don’t get into a power struggle
“If a child does not do what they are asked or responds negatively, the power struggle and frustration on the parent’s part can be radically decreased if the parent stops and connects with their child. This means identifying and naming what they are feeling and what is underneath the feeling,” says Petruk.
“For example, ‘Susie, I can see you are angry that I asked you to go brush your teeth. I know you don’t want to go to bed now, but it’s bedtime.’ By starting with the validation and naming of how the child is feeling, children will frequently automatically calm down because they know the parent gets them and understands how they are feeling,” adds Petruk.
So what are some tangible ways a mom can stop feeling like she has to be a nag in order for her children to get things done? Christine Agro, founder of The Conscious Mom’s Guide says, “My advice for moms with younger kids is rather than discussing, explaining and (gasp) bribing, turn to positive reinforcement.”
“Unfortunately, we can easily fall into the negative reinforcement trap, which will only get worse the more you nag. To turn the tables, stop nagging and wait until your child does something you want him to do, and then, tell him how happy you are that he did it without you having to ask. With big hugs, lots of positive acknowledgement, little by little you’ll see a change in behavior.”
Approach older children differently
Because you can’t discipline a toddler the same way you would a teen, your approach needs to change as the child grows up. “For older kids, it’s a matter of reminding them that they are an integral part of the family, which means doing things and participating around the house. Identify what things are privileges (like watching television and going to the movies) and indicate that these privileges come with being a part of the family. Ask them to take on more responsibility, and then, explain to them what exactly that means. When your child steps up, remember to say ‘thank you’ and acknowledge their contribution.”
Stop doing everything
Tina Tessina says, “With children, today’s caring moms tend to err on the side of doing too much, and not allowing their kids to learn to be self-sufficient. With children, let them do as much as they are capable of. This, of course, needs to be age-appropriate, but a three-year-old can learn to help mommy by picking up toys, and a six-year-old can get his or her own cereal breakfast, set the table, and help with dusting.”
“As they get older, give them responsibilities that fit their abilities like vacuuming, shopping, cooking, cleaning bathrooms (especially their own) or yard work. If you want to rotate chores, put a chore list on the wall and move around who does what. This helps older kids understand what is necessary to be done, and how often to do it. Saving and handling money are reasonable chores, too.”