Getting your child's attention: the dos and don'ts
People like to feel heard. There’s nothing more infuriating than trying to get something done or communicate ideas or instructions to someone and have them completely ignore you, or worse, talk over you.
Listening is an important skill for not only kids but also parents, to learn. It’s an essential activity to understand one another, to see the consequences of actions and to learn how to cooperate and coordinate within a team.
But our kids don’t understand that.
All younger kids want to do is follow their instincts – they don’t yet understand that there is a way of doing things, a routine to fall in line with, instructions that need to be followed. And why should they? They’re young and free spirited and don’t realise the world works a certain way. So it’s important to communicate with them in a way that they can understand and feel listened to also.
Get on their level
Something as simple as kneeling down next to them can get their attention. For young kids especially, so much of life happens over their head – literally. They’re physically quite far removed from your face and voice when you’re speaking them, and talking down to them doesn’t work. By getting down beside them so your faces are level, you can make eye contact and have them focus on you while you speak.
As kids get older, they strive for more independence. This can manifest in not listening to you or your instructions. They may be more disobedient, but this is just them trying to assert themselves. When they aren’t listening to you, give them some sort of choice. For example; ‘You can either put on your red t-shirt or your yellow t-shirt before we leave the house in five minutes’ or ‘we can go to the shop or the dentist's office first – it’s your choice’. This gives them an active role in the decision-making process, meaning they’ll listen more closely to what you’re explaining to them.
Keep it simple
Slow it down for them – their brain doesn’t work in the same way yours does. So if you’re having a manic day with lots of errands to run and you need them to tag along with you, be sure to explain to them where you’re going, why you’re going there and how they are your helper for the day. Explain it simply, laying out the plan for them so they aren’t just being dragged from one place to another without understanding why they have to do this.
Make listening a habit
We all know kids will mirror the actions that they see around them. If you take the time to stop and listen to them – really listen, like set aside anything else you’re doing and focus solely on them – you’re letting them know that what they have to say is important. Having a special word or phrase to indicate that this is their time to talk and be heard can be helpful, as you can use it in turn when you need them to really focus on you and what you’re saying to them.
Help them to cooperate
This feeds into the actions and consequences understanding. When they can understand the importance of following specific directions, they can reap the benefits of it. For example, put your soccer gear into your wash basket by Thursday night so it will be clean for Saturday. If they don’t follow the instructions, they face the consequences of it. It also works the other way – if you finish picking up all your toys, you can go play at your friend’s house – positive reinforcement is also an important tool.
Rephrase things positively
Constantly being told ‘no’ can be an irritating experience for a young child – don’t touch, don’t eat that, don’t fall – it can make them feel frustrated, even when we are only looking out for them. The constant barrage of ‘no’ can make them begin to tune out these instructions, so rephrasing things in a positive way can make their ears perk up. Tell them what they can do, not what they can’t. For example; ‘Don’t leave your toys everywhere’ vs ‘Pick up your toys please’, ‘Don’t annoy your brother/sister’ vs ‘Try to get along with your brother/sister’. Changing the tone around the language changes the scenario.