Want Kids to Listen? Stop Repeating Yourself!

It’s an all too familiar scenario…

Moms is almost ready to leave, children are still coloring in the kitchen.  Mom says “Hey, time to get your shoes on and could you turn off the tv, please?”  Moms keeps moving to put the breakfast dishes in the sink.  Children ignore mom’s request and keep coloring.  Mom walks over to gather her things, turns off the tv herself and says, “Really, get your shoes.  We gotta go.”  Children continue coloring.  One child looks up briefly, sees mom looking through her purse and checking her phone so back to coloring.  Mom, without looking up says, “Shoes.”  Mom, putting on her coat snaps, “Shoes now!  (five seconds pass) That’s one….(five seconds), two….(five seconds), Do you hear me?  I am counting!  GET YOUR SHOES!”  Crayons drop, kids move towards shoes. 

Parent asks child to do something.  Child ignores request.  Parent repeats request.  Child ignores.  Parent escalates.  Child ignores.  Parent, who was initially calm, loses it and yells.  Child listens and moves into action.  Parent is frustrated that child doesn’t listen.

The unfortunate thing if you are in this cycle, you are actually teaching your child to NOT listen.  By repeating the request, you are directly teaching them to tune them out.  The child is learning that when you start talking you are going to say it two or three more times so they wait.  They learn that they have at least a few more minutes from the first request before they have to listen.  They learn you are unpredictable, sometimes you really mean it and sometimes you just don’t so they watch.

To break the habit of repeating yourself, you have to make a new habit.  The idea is to say it once and then expect them to listen.  Accept that at least initially, you may have to move into action and help them to listen.  You may have to help them at first because together you’ve created the pattern of tuning out.   So let’s say you buy in and starting now decide to say things once and expect children to listen.  For starters, the new pattern is going to fail.  Tomorrow morning, you get their attention and very clearly say, “Its time to go.  Put on your shoes, please.”  They are not likely to listen as listening the first time is not the familiar habit.  Rather than repeat and frustrate yourself, move into action.  Take child to shoes or take shoes to child and get them started.  You can still give them choices about which pair of shoes or which step to sit on. You can give them a challenge to put them on before you sing the alphabet.  You can still be polite and say please.  Point is, you can still talk just avoid the repeated asking them to put on their shoes again.  Hopefully you will be less frustrated.  Even if you have to stop what you are doing to help, at least you only said it once.

Have faith that you are building a new and better habit.  It should only take a few weeks before a six year old starts to realize, “Oh, you are only going to say things once.  You actually expect me to listen.”  With a two year old, it can take until they are three but it is a far better habit to be in as a parent, to say things once and expect listening than to start down the path of repeating to be ignored.

We had a mom in class who said, “I get this but it’s crazy.  I must say 16 times every morning, ‘Put on your shoes.’  No one is listening to me but I”m making four lunches and I’ve got four boys running amok and you want me to stop making lunch.”  Yes, I either want her to stop making lunches and help them listen OR better yet, save her breath and wait until she is done making lunches and then gather everyone to ask them to put on shoes.  Wait until she is in a position to move into action and expect listening.  In her current habit she is directly teaching them to tune her out 16 times, making the rest of her day that much harder.  Clearly there is a need to change the habit.

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Comments

  1. Good suggestions! I’ll have to test them out on my kids.

  2. Great advice!

  3. What are your thoughts about giving children a 5 minute warning that they need to finish up what they are working on before it is time to actually go? If a child is engaged in a focused activity such as building or drawing, it can be difficult to simply drop it with no time to mentally transition out of it.

    • Hi Barbara, Thank you for this. I am a great believer in warnings, most children benefit from having the time to transition. Warnings don’t count as repeating yourself, it’s just when you actually say “and now it’s time to…” making the real request that you want to avoid repeating. With warnings, it can also be helpful to say about the same thing and mean about the same amount of time each time. When my girls were little I would say “three more minutes” and then “one more minute, do your last thing.” And I tried hard to keep this language and the time consistent. This is beneficial even before they know how to tell time as they learn about how long it is given the consistent pairing. If sometimes your warning means three minutes because you are in a hurry and sometimes it means fifteen minutes because you get distracted, it isn’t helping them as much.

Trackbacks

  1. […] – Read more on this method at Parenting by Dr Rene […]

  2. […] There is also great benefit in not repeating yourself when you ask her to do something.  Here is a link to our blog post on not repeating yourself: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/want-kids-to-listen-stop-repeating-yourself/ […]

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