A most frequent topic of discussion is a commonly asked question – “I have to ask so many times, how do I get my child to listen to me?” Here are simple tips to be sure to use with your young children.

1.  Make sure you have their attention.  Children, especially young children, have very underdeveloped brains and if they are engaged in another activity such as the TV or play, they are not equipped to focus on more than what they currently are doing.  Parents often yell across the room and then get angry that their child is ignoring them.  Make it easier on all of you and walk over to the child and speak in a kind voice to them once you have directed their attention away from their current activity.

2.  Don’t repeat yourself over and over.  Parents sometimes think if they repeat themselves or intensify how they ask for what they need by yelling, they will get our child’s attention.  Unfortunately, children get accustomed to how many times you will ask and tend to wait until your typical number of requests before they act.  By this time, your anger has usually escalated causing a negative interaction.

3.  Use a “When-then” command and only ask twice.  For instance, if you want your child to get their coat and shoes on, state politely, “Please get your shoes and coat on”.  Wait 5 seconds.  If your child doesn’t comply, then state “When you get your coat and shoes on, then we will be able to leave.” Wait five seconds.  If your child again doesn’t comply again, impose a natural consequence such as not going to the place assuming it is somewhere they want to go until they are ready.  If it is school or somewhere they have to go or you have to leave, politely say you will wait for them in the car until they are ready. Make sure you are close by to keep them safe.  Remember that many of the things you ask your child they don’t want to do so motivating them with something that comes after is very helpful.

4.  Pay attention to how you ask your child to do something – the effective command.  Many parents use ineffective commands such as question commands, “Will you clean your room?” which could be answered with a resounding “No” or Chain commands which are many commands at a time which are difficult for young brains because it overwhelms them.  For young children 1 or 2 commands are sufficient and for older children 3 commands can be enough.  An effective command is stated in the positive, is clear, direct and polite such as “Please clean up your blocks” or “In five minutes please come to dinner.”

5.  Limit the amount of requests and commands throughout the day.  On average, a child receives 17 commands per half-hour.  It is important to make requests as little as possible so when you need to issue a command, it is meaningful.

Remember that children tend to listen more to parents and caregivers with who they have a strong, positive relationship.  More information next time on building your relationship with your children.