How to Get My Child to Listen: 5 Techniques to Gain a Child’s Cooperation

How to get your child to listen - Tribeca Play Therapy - Ny, NY

By Joseph Sacks, LCSW

In their classic book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”, Faber and Mazlish, international experts on parent-child communication, list five amazing techniques to deal with children’s difficult or oppositional behaviors and emotions. By describing, giving information, saying with one word, saying how you feel and writing notes, you can learn "How to get my child to listen." In this post, I’ve synthesized Faber’s and Mazlish’s thoughts with my own ideas on how to gain a child’s cooperation and added elucidation. Please bear in mind that the following principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfil them perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.

How To Get My Child To Listen

We don’t want to communicate that our children are irritating or incompetent or that they’re always doing something wrong. Rather, we need to communicate to our children that they are loveable and capable but that right now there is a problem that needs to be addressed and we have confidence that they’ll behave responsibly.

1. Describing

Describing problems prevents your child from feeling accused or like the finger is pointed at him or her. Instead of saying, “You spilled the milk, go get a sponge,” say, “The milk spilled, we need a sponge.” Instead of criticizing and commanding, “You made such a mess of your face and hands, go wash them!” Describe, “I see a boy with paint on his hands and face,” and allow the child to draw his or her own conclusion about what needs to be done. This way, your child doesn’t feel criticized or bossed around. You’d be surprised how well this works! Describing encourages kids because it shows them we have confidence in them to act responsibly without being ordered. This makes children feel good about themselves which promotes cooperation.

For more information about describing, click here.

2. Giving Information

Instead or reprimanding your child for name-calling and ordering him or her to stop, which again makes him or her feel criticized and bossed around, give information, saying, “Name calling hurts feelings.” Allow your child to draw his or her own conclusions. This approach shows respect for the child’s intelligence. If there are no cars immediately coming, instead of saying “Get out of the street,” try, “Five year olds play on the sidewalk.”

3. Saying How You Feel

How to get your child to listen - Tribeca Play Therapy - Ny, NY

Saying what you feel not only let’s kids feel less bossed around (Describing) and allows them to draw their own conclusions (Giving Information), but it helps you, the parent, get your needs met so you can be a more effective parent. By saying, “I’m in a tense mood right now, but not because of you, I’ll help you after dinner,” you teach your child that you are a real person with needs and feelings. When you share how you feel this way, children are more likely to understand. Be honest with your kids when you have reached your limits and take care of yourself first so you can be more effective taking care of them. Seek help from your partner, friends or family.

For a discussion of how to deal with parental anger, click here.

4. Say It With One Word

Children strongly dislike lectures, sermons or long statements. These make your child feel nagged and controlled. So, instead of making a verbose request, use just one word to get your message across and it will be much better received. For example, instead of saying, “You know the dog has been waiting all day to go out, how many times do I have to tell you, you agreed when we got this dog that you would walk him,” simply say, “Davy, the dog.” Instead of a long complaint about leaving the bathroom light on, say, “Dina, the light.” The fewer words we use, the smaller parental intrusion we make and, therefore, the more likely our children will be to comply.

5. Writing Notes

Children love getting notes. They are a wise, subtle and extremely effective means of communication. They demonstrate forethought, effort and consideration on the part of the parent and this is very much appreciated by the child. For example, you might write: “Story time at 8:30 tonight. All children who are in pajamas with teeth brushed are invited.” Or, “Dear Johnny, I haven’t been out since this morning. Give me a break. Your dog, Harry.” A note in the bathroom, “Please hang up towel after using,” can save you from repeatedly asking. One parent wisely communicated to his daughter, “Alison, I’m boiling!!! My new CD was taken without permission and now it’s full of scratches and doesn’t play anymore, Mad Dad.” By communicating how he was feeling in a written note, he showed his daughter that he was frustrated but that he respected her ability to decide how to address the situation – she then offered to pay for a replacement. Even kids who can’t read will inquire about what the notes say and will likely comply. For a more detailed discussion of writing notes, click here.

“I Still Don’t Know How to Get My Child to Listen”

Be aware that in some cases you may change your parenting approach and try being less critical, less strict and more forgiving but still get resistance from your child. It could be that your child is hyper-sensitive as a result of feeling criticized in the past, and he or she may become irritated no matter how thoughtfully and gently you communicate with him or her. In this case, you need to give your child time to recuperate, for his or her sensitivity to come back to normal. Don’t be discouraged. Continue being gentle and non-critical and, with time, your child will come around and become more manageable.

For more helpful parenting advice you can visit the rest of my interesting blog, or feel free to peruse the specialties on this website or download one of my informative free reports on how to communicate with your child.

If you are facing challenges with how to get my child to listen, and would like professional guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan,

you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

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