At one time or another, most parents have resorted to some form of these statements in attempts to motivate children to listen. The majority of parents have had the exasperating experience of instructing their children, only to find out that they have not listened and, therefore, have not complied with the instructions. As a result, family life can become frustrating, chaotic and agonising.
Even though children seem to have a natural disinclination to listen, experts say there are ways to establish positive methods of communication with kids. Here are eight ways to help children become good listeners.
1. Be a good listener
Role modelling is a vital aspect of successful parenting. The Bible recognises the power of positive parental role models— “The Lord was with Jehoshaphat because in his early years he walked in the ways his father David had followed” (2 Chronicles 17:3). Work to be your child’s role model of someone who listens well. When your child is speaking or explaining something, give him or her your complete, undivided attention. Let the child know you have heard clearly by affirming what you hear and seeking clarification on what you don’t understand.
In the book 10 Best Gifts for Your Teen, by Patt and Steve Saso, Mr Saso tells of picking up his son after school. That day the youth had attended a class field trip to see the play Anne of Green Gables. The elder Saso asked his son about the story. “Paul began telling me about the play, but I was not listening to a word he said. I had a million things on my mind. I was preoccupied with other thoughts: the washing machine that needed fixing, bills, soccer practice, and what I was going to teach in class tomorrow,” he explains. That evening at the dinner table, Patt Saso asked Paul what the play was about. “Ask Dad. I told him all about it on the way home from school,” Paul replied.
“My insides screamed. I was caught! I stammered something about the gables in the story being a greenish colour, before I owned up to the fact that I really had not been listening as he told me about the play. Sometimes we parents are poor listeners. Our kids want to tell us something and we are too busy with the television or the newspaper or are too preoccupied with our thoughts to give them a full hearing,” he laments.
2. Say what you mean and mean what you say
One mother tells her son that it’s time to leave but then the mother takes an additional 20 minutes to get herself ready. A father tells his daughter that he will pick her and her friends up from the rollerskating rink promptly at 3 pm, but doesn’t pull up until nearly 3.30 that afternoon. As a result of such scenarios children create “selective hearing” as they attempt to discern what the parent really means. The lesson for parents: think before you speak. This was the teaching of Jesus when He instructed: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No‘” (Matthew 5:37). As a parent, you should say what you mean and mean what you say.
3. Get up close and personal
That’s the advice of Elizabeth Pantley, author of Kid Cooperation. “While it’s a whole lot easier to yell from two rooms away, its much less effective,” she says.
“Children respond much, much better to a parent who is facing them eye to eye. In addition, when you are standing close by you can determine if your child is paying attention to you, without having to gauge the meaning of a few distant grunts. It takes a few extra minutes to get face to face, but will save you from getting angry as you repeat your request over and over again.”
4. Modify the environment
There are times when the environment is not conducive for good listening and learning. Stephen D Boyd, a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky, relates this story: “A few years ago, I had a student who was trying college for a second time because he had flunked out the first time. He became a straight ‘A’ student. According to him, the dramatic difference in his performance was largely a matter of where he sat. In every class he sat front and centre, right in the face of the instructor. Consequently, he heard everything clearly, had nothing between him and the instructor to distract him, and he received more eye contact and personal attention than anyone else in the room.” When parenting, ensure that your child has every opportunity to listen and hear you by modifying the environment. Be sure the television is off, the video game is on pause, that the child is not wearing a CD head set and listening to music, that others are not in the room distracting the child.
5. Use the word “please”
Avoid being a tyrant and treating your child like a servant by constantly shouting and barking out orders.
Treat your child with consummate respect. Phrase your requests in the most polite manner possible. Rather than issuing the demand, “Clean your room,” try saying, “Please have your room cleaned before your friend comes over today.” And, rather than ordering your child, “Unload the dishwasher,” try phrasing it in this way: “I would appreciate it if you would please unload the dishwasher in the next few minutes.” Like adults, children are more likely to respond affirmatively to a request cast in a positive tone. Also, speaking respectfully to children fulfils the call of Scripture in 1 Peter 3:8 to “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
6. Be very clear
Children are more apt to listen when the conversation is clear and focused. “Don’t hint at what you want your child to do: ‘It would be nice if you …’ or ‘Don’t you think you should …’ Don’t make an incomplete request: ‘Soon you’ll have to get ready to go.’ Don’t be vague: ‘You know better than that …’ says Pantley.
“Instead, be clear and specific. State your requests in a way that will not be misunderstood. ‘Please put your shoes and coat on and get in the car’ or ‘Please hang up your clothes and put your books on the shelf ‘ or ‘Sit here and use a quiet inside voice,‘” she adds.
7. Demonstrate respect toward children
Respect is a two‑sided coin. While children must be taught to respect parental authority, parents have an equal responsibility to show respect for children. In his book Solid Answers, psychologist James Dobson shares this insight: “The self‑concept of a child is extremely fragile and it must be handled with great care. A youngster should live in complete safety at home, never belittled or embarrassed deliberately, never punished in front of friends, never ridiculed in a way that is hurtful. His strong feelings and requests, even if foolish, should be considered and responded to politely. He should feel that his parents ‘really do care about me’ … respect is the critical ingredient in all human relationships, and just as parents should insist on receiving it from their children, they are obligated to model it in return.”
8. Instil important life skills
Even though the task of helping children become good listeners can be a daunting one at times, you as a parent should be encouraged that you are instilling a powerful life skill in your children. Children who learn how to listen well are more apt to become adults who have healthy, vibrant and successful relationships with spouses, friends, family members and colleagues. The ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch wisely observed: “Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Likewise the Bible advocates the responsibility parents have to instil life skills in their children: “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (Proverbs 22:6).
Finally, try to maintain a sense of humour about family life. Not everything will run smoothly and work out as expected. The passage from childhood to adulthood can be challenging, confusing, anxiety producing and humorous. A good example is that of the British Lord Rochester, who said: “Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.”