Speaking to parents across the globe has brought me to recognize the number one parenting question asked universally:
“Why don’t my kids listen to me and what should I do about it?”
We are really speaking here about discipline. The true question is: Why is my discipline ineffective? Why isn’t my child listening?
Perhaps we can begin with a good hard look at ourselves and the way we handle situations that require a parent’s wisdom.
I recently attended a child’s birthday party. It was a festive event with decorated cookies and donuts piled high. One three year old began to screech. His grandmother tried to calm him to no avail. The screeching became louder. The child dropped to the floor and began to kick his legs.
“What does he want?” I heard the grandma ask her children.
“They ran out of the blue frosted donuts. There are only vanilla left. And he only wants blue.”
The father joined his son on the floor.
“Would you like me to take you to the bakery and see if they have blue donuts for you?”
Still wailing, the child nodded. Dad scooped up his child, carried him on his shoulders and off they went to find a bakery with blue donuts.
Now I ask you: When will this child learn that sometimes we must deal with a situation, and the answer may not be the one we want to hear? Mommy and Daddy cannot always fix everything. As a child grows, it is crucial that he learns how to handle frustration. The solution cannot be that parents always step in and find a way to make it all better.
Of course we don’t relish times that children feel badly. But this moment presented a perfect opportunity for teaching a life lesson and self-discipline. Instead these parents used it to create an entitled child who can’t deal with disappointment. The parents stopped the temper tantrum but they’ll pay the price down the road as they wonder why their child cannot listen or handle limits. Rewarding tantrums is a sure way to reinforce bad behavior.
The same goes for older children who cause grief and pain yet they are never asked to be responsible for their actions. Technology has cheapened our words. Children send damaging photos and texts but it all seems to float above their heads. They do not face the image of the one they hurt. They are never confronted with the reddened cheeks, the glistening eyes, and the wounded soul. Again, parents step in. This time instead of whisking a child away to find a treat, they seek excuses for their child’s bad behavior. Responsibility is lacking.
But eventually the behavior catches up. Parents who have shielded their children from limits and responsibility scratch their hands wondering why they can’t seem to get their children to listen to their rules. The answer is: because they have lived a life lacking rules. Boundaries are not respected.
Here are some crucial parenting questions:
- Am I consistent?
- Do I allow my child to experience limits?
- Do I say what I mean and mean what I say?
- Do I give empty threats? Do I follow through?
- Do I hold my child accountable for his actions?
- Do I allow misbehavior to slide?
After contemplating these parenting actions, it is good for parents to think about how we communicate with our children. When discipline is required, many make the mistake of speaking from anger. A child pushed our button and now we respond emotionally. Yelling, raising our voice, losing it or giving long speeches is purposeless.
We push children away when we lose our temper. Instead of giving a solid parenting lesson we are left with either a shouting match or Artic chill. No one wins.
Be firm not angry. Don’t label, shame or humiliate. Just because he is younger than you does not justify a parent’s belittling a child. Someone needs to be the adult here. Who should teach respectable behavior if not us?
Speak to your child in a calm tone. If you are having a conversation about misbehavior that needs to be worked on, do not talk in front of other siblings. They will relish joining in the conversation and sticking in their two cents. Your child will be either embarrassed or angry. Speak privately.
Be sure that you are not creating a pattern where you need to say the same thing over and over again or finally scream in order to get your child to listen. If this is what is happening in your home, your voice has become ineffective.
While children are not robots, we can expect them to listen. For example, if you are calling them to eat dinner five times before they come, this is behavior that needs to be addressed. Explain clearly that though you are sure they do not mean it, it is disrespectful to ignore a parent. If when you call for dinner there is some activity that they are in the middle of, it is respectful to ask in a ‘nice’ tone if they can just finish for a few more moments. Whether the answer is yes or no is up to the parent. And it is up to the child to listen without arguing. If a respectful tone is not used there is certainly nothing to talk about. And once a parent makes a decision, there is no arguing or back talk.
Do not respond to disrespect. Do not honor a conversation that is filled with arrogance or attitude. Simply say, “When you are ready to speak to me respectfully, I am happy to listen.”
Explain, too, that if you give a few extra minutes, you are counting on the child to keep his word. This means that there is not an atmosphere of ‘Let’s Make A Deal’. If a word cannot be kept then there is no chance of having the child’s request honored. Perhaps if we see greater responsibility and better behavior in the future, we can think about trying again.
Children will test you to see if you really mean what you say. Be firm. Believe in yourself. Now is the time to speak about natural consequences. I never use the word punishment. You choose your actions, you choose what happens. Always relate the consequence to the action. You did not come to eat dinner until everyone was done? I feel badly for you but this is what you chose. There is always cereal or a sandwich. You are responsible for the choices you make. For older teens-you did not use your phone responsibly? That is a behavior you chose and now you will deal with the natural consequences that we decide.
Our children need parents who guide them and pave the road toward adulthood. When children know what we expect from them, when we teach responsibility and accountability, we all feel as if we are living in a home that is secure and strong.
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