Nine ways to make them listen

Feel like you've told your children the same thing countless times and they're still not listening? Before you lose your temper, try our tips which are guaranteed to make them pay attention

Let’s face it, asking kids to do something over and over again drives us all nuts. At school, they do as they’re told. Your partner comes home and they do what he or she says. But you ask them do to the simplest thing and suddenly they’re deaf and you’re invisible. We've all been there, but yelling at the kids isn't the way to get them on your side longterm. It could even make things more difficult.

Have faith - even the most persistent non-listener can change! Just remember, lay down the basic ground rules and be consistent – it's much more effective than shouting and yelling, plus you'll be a great role model.

1. What's really wrong? See if there’s a root cause for the bad behaviour. Often “naughty” children are just tired or hungry. Maybe they’ve been teased at school that day, or are jealous of a new sibling.

“There is usually a reason for bad behaviour. It may be that Dad comes home at 8pm and the child never sees him, or that you’re too busy to ever play with them,” says Suzie Hayman, a family counsellor. “Often we’re punishing children for making justifiable complaints. Tell them you may not be able to change the situation, but that you can listen.”

2. One thing at a time It’s no good ordering a five-year-old to simultaneously put away his clothes, tidy his crayons, and stop bashing two-year-old sister’s head against the wall. Start with what’s most important (his sister’s skull) and when one task is done, move on to another.

3. Don't back down If your child misbehaves, don’t let it go for the sake of an easy life. If she makes such a fuss about brushing her teeth that you allow her to go to bed with a mouthful of chocolate, she’ll expect it from now on.

4. Think positive parenting It’s better to give approval for good behaviour than disapproval for bad. “Approval should not be generic but geared toward the specific action: ‘thanks for putting your clothes in the drawer’, or ‘thanks for sharing your toys with your brother’,” says Dr Howard Sloane, an educational psychologist. “It should also come nearly immediately after the behaviour has occurred, or as close to it as possible.”

5. Be specific If there is something you don’t like, let them know – using simple, clear language that points out the problem. When Junior pulls all the food from the fridge, it’s no good saying “You’re being horrid, stop it!” Instead, say: “Don’t take the food out of the fridge, please. Pick the carrots and butter up and put them back on the shelves.” Similarly, ask for what you DO want in a specific way. “Go tidy your room!” doesn’t work. “Let’s put your toys in the box, please” then “Let’s put your sandals back in the wardrobe,” does. Get them involved while you're tidying, and make it fun.

6. Be a good role model “It’s very important that you model your own behaviour on the behaviour you want them to emulate,” says Suzie Hayman. “That means you don’t shout, you listen, and you explain. If they are doing something you don’t like, don’t lose your temper. Ask them politely to explain what is going on.”

7. Never use bribes or threats Instead, let your kids know the negative consequences of their actions, such as dirty clothes on the floor means no pretty party dress to wear to their friend’s birthday. “The issue most ‘experts’ don’t explain is the difference between threats and appropriate consequences,” says Dr Sloane. “Saying in advance ‘If you clean your room you can watch telly’ stresses that sometimes by not cleaning your room someone will later offer a bribe to clean it. Waiting until they clean their room and then offering it is much, much better.”

8. Three steps for better behaviour Even if you've had little success with it in the past, make the naughty step or a time out area work for you alongside some solid house rules and a reward system: make it clear to your kids what kind of behaviour is acceptable in your home, and make 'good listening' one of the points on the reward chart.

9. Reward good behaviour Reward charts help with showing approval for specific actions and are an easy, clear-cut way for children to gain immediate approval. You can make a game of good behaviour – exchange sticker chart stars for fun rewards, such as Mummy reading their favourite story for the millionth time, Daddy wearing a silly hat while eating dinner, or them wearing a silly hat to a meal, bed, wherever. Use your – and their – imaginations. And have fun!

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