So, now that we have gone through the philosophy behind why we need to teach our children to listen to us, let’s get to the most awaited HOW! (If you haven’t read Part 1, I highly encourage you to do so, because its so important to know why we are doing what we are doing, so that we have the patience to persevere even when it gets tough!)
Here are some practical tips you can use to help your preschooler start listening to you.
1. Start with simple tasks
If your child is not in the habit of listening to you, start slow. Give your child very easy, simple tasks (something that the child doesn’t find difficult to do) and do it together with your child. For example, “Please can you help me put the spoons back in the drawer”, or “Let’s put the blocks back in the box together.” Once they have started learning to listen to you, you can move to more independent instructions like, “Please put the dinosaurs back in their box.”
2. Get their attention
Many times, it’s not that children don’t not want to listen to you, it’s just that they are completely engrossed in what they are doing, or in their own world. And we as parents just tend to throw instructions into the air, and then get frustrated that our child doesn’t listen.
So ensure that they are paying attention to you when you are speaking. Go down to their level and make eye contact with them. If they are watching something, you can pause it, and tell them what you want to say.
3. Be very specific with the instruction
Preschoolers are limited in their ability to perform complex tasks. Give very specific tasks to your child. For example, if you tell your child to clean their room, they may get overwhelmed as they don’t know where to start, and how to follow the process to get the job done. Many times as adults we forget that these things don’t come naturally, but are learnt as we grow. Give specific tasks such as, “Put the books back on the shelf.” Once that task is complete, you can give the next instruction, “Put the puzzle pieces back in the box.” Also, ensure that the task being expected of the child is not too complex for the child to do. If you find it is, help the child with it. Try not to let negative emotions be associated with the task. (You can start this process with children as young as 1 year old. Keep practicing giving children small instructions that they can do – e.g. “Please give Mummy the book.”)
4. Give reasons
When giving a new instruction for the first time, always try and follow it with a logical reason. e.g. “I’m going to put a jacket on you now, because its cold outside and you may get sick if you are not properly covered up.” Or “Please put your blocks back into the box. It’s important to put things back in its place when we finish using it, because if we don’t there will just be a pile of mess everywhere and it will be difficult to find any of your things.” Engage your child in conversation. Encourage them to ask why. When they know why they are doing what they are doing, they will do it with their heart, rather than being forced to do something. That having been said, there will be times when you give them an instruction that they may not understand the reason why. You can explain to them that, “There are some things that Mummy or Daddy may tell you that you don’t understand at that time, but you must remember that we tell you things that are best for you, to keep you safe. So it’s important to listen, even if you don’t understand.”
5. Get a response
Once you have got their attention and given the instruction, ask the child to repeat back to you what you just said. Ensure that they have understood what you have said. Get them into the practice of saying, “Yes Mummy, or Yes, Daddy” in response to an instruction given.
6. Praise and reward
Appreciate every time your child has listened to you, however small the task. “Well done for putting away the blocks! You are becoming a very responsible boy!”. “Thank you for helping me put the spoons away. You are such a great helper.” “Since you finished drinking your milk so fast without fussing, let’s play with your cars together.” This will start creating positive associations in your child’s brain, with listening to you. The best way to reward your child is to spend time doing something extra special with your child that he or she enjoys.
So what happens, when you’ve done all of the above and your child still doesn’t listen to you? Follow up with consequences. As far as possible, consequences for preschoolers should be connected to the task, and should be immediate. e.g. if your child doesn’t finish their milk, tell them that they cannot go down to play till they have finished it. Consequences for not putting toys away, could be that you will take it away for a week. Always explain the consequence to the child before you enforce it. So, if you know that your child is struggling to listen to you when it comes to putting their toys away, explain that you will have to take their toys away if they leave the room without putting it back in its place. (The consequences too, should be very specific.) Ensure that you follow through on the consequences you have set, otherwise the consequences become redundant. Don’t set consequences that are too far in the future. e.g. “Because you didn’t put your blocks back, you can’t go to the park on Saturday.” Also, as far as possible try and keep the consequence directly associated with the task. e.g. “If you pinch your brother again, I’m going to have to take you out of the room, and you will not be able to play with him anymore.”
Don’t expect the journey to be smooth sailing! In the beginning, especially if your child is not used to listening to you, they may throw tantrums and make life extremely difficult for you – to a point that you may feel that it’s easier to just let your child do whatever he or she wants. But keep the big picture in mind and be consistent. It will be tough in the beginning, but once your child has learnt to obey you, it will get so much easier in the future, and you would have developed their character and helped them become much better human beings.