Child Discipline Strategies

How to Communicate with Children who Refuse to Listen



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You have more than likely heard a parent say, "I can't understand why Johnny refuses to listen to me." Maybe the mother has told Johnny to pick up his toys from the floor but Johnny keeps on playing. The phrase "refuses to listen" is many times better stated "refuses to follow instruction."

The first thing to determine is if there is a medical reason the child seems not to listen, for instance, a hearing disability that has not yet been detected or something like ADD or autism. Once medical concerns have been ruled out, the adult then must begin the task of teaching the child to obey instructions.

Most of the time, the child who does not listen has not had adults in his life who have listened to him. Left to fend for himself and forced to entertain himself, the child becomes an island isolated from others. Because he has unlimited choices and few limits, he has little opportunity to see how his poor choices injure others. He knows some of his choices are personally painful but he either does not know or does not care how his disobedience affects others.

The child who does not obey must first of all learn to trust the person who is speaking. If the child is very young, the adult should make eye contact by getting down to the child's level. Sitting or kneeling beside or in front of him is a good way to begin communication. If the child continues to glance away at distractions, simply holding his face gently in your hands and looking into his eyes may focus his attention. If the child is not your own, be cautious about touching in a way that could be misconstrued as inappropriate.

Make sure you use the child's name when speaking to him. If you are asking him to do something, especially something that takes a few steps to complete it, have him repeat back what you told him to do. The younger the child, the fewer steps the child will be able to remember so keep the directions to the youngest simple.

Resist the temptation to raise your voice. Once the child becomes used to answering only when the adult's voice reaches a certain decibel level, he will continue to wait to respond every time until that warning' level is reached. For that reason you should come to the child to tell him something; don't yell your instruction from another room. It is too easy for the child to say, "I didn't hear you."

Use the word "please" when asking your child to do something; require him to use the same manners toward you.

Sometimes the best way to get the attention of a child is to speak in a quieter voice than he is using. A calm voice will soothe a riled temper faster than a voice that is equal in volume and nature.

Make sure that after an instruction is given the child obeys. Do not give a second or third command, hoping the child will obey in time. Know that the younger child may require an instruction repeated, but some older children understand only too well that if they hold off long enough, the parent may forget what she has asked or may do the chore herself. You are the adult; the child should obey. You, after all, have the good of the family and the child in mind when you ask him to do something.

Let your no' be no' without compromise. If you are saying no' for a good reason, do not explain. You will only give room for an argument.

Don't lecture; the child soon learns that you can and will get distracted if you ramble on.

Give opportunity for the child to tell you things about which she is excited. Reflect back what you are told with "I thought I heard you say" type sentences. Be a good listener. When she knows that you are truly interested in her life and what is going on, she will want to obey. Younger children especially want to please the adult in their lives that seems to care most about them.

Younger children must be taught to obey while they are still young. Older youth who will not obey instruction may need to learn that wrong choices have consequences. Be there to help him understand the cause and effect of his actions but do not soften the lesson that is being learned.

More about this author: Sandra Petersen

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