“Are you listening to me?!”
“Don’t ignore me!”
"Did you hear what I said?!"
Sound familiar? If you are finding that your child often seems to ignore you, or just doesn’t appear to be listening, the following suggestions might be helpful.
The first thing to consider is if your child genuinely has an issue with their hearing. If you are concerned about their hearing, consider asking your school nurse or GP to perform a hearing test.
Then, think about how you are speaking to your child. Observe your voice: do you speak loudly or softly? Do you shout? Are you trying to get their attention from another room or floor in the house?
Do you model good listening skills? Make sure that when your child is speaking to you, you give them as much attention as you can. Make eye contact, reflect back to them what they have said, so they know you have heard them. Try not to divide your attention between them and another task (especially looking at your phone!)
Give your child time to talk and share what might be on their mind. Are they not able to fully hear you because they are preoccupied, or have too much on their mind?
Remember, also, that your child has different priorities to you! Jumping on the sofa to avoid the lava-floor, or swinging a wrapping paper tube like a lightsaber is much more important to them than setting the table, going to the toilet or putting their shoes away.
When we talk about wanting our children to listen, if we’re honest, we usually mean that we want them to pay attention and comply with whatever request we have made, or answer the question we asked.
My top tips for getting children to respond as you ask are here!
1. Be patient. They may not be ignoring you on purpose, but may not be prioritising your request. Children have a limited peripheral awareness, which means that they often don’t register what’s happening around them, when they are particularly engaged or engrossed with something.
2. Make eye contact and, if possible, get down to their level. Make sure you are in close proximity, (e.g. don’t shout from the bottom of the stairs!) Making physical contact is another useful way to get their attention; gently touch their arm or shoulder, or hold their hand.
3. Keep your request or instruction concise: don’t overcomplicate things or they will switch off!
4. However, do try and give a reason for your request: it helps to know why you are being asked to do something (by the way, “because Mummy said so!” is not a valid reason!).
5. Try and give choices or make compromises where feasible. If you are giving your child instructions or commands continuously, they will become resistant.
6. Try not to be repetitive: if you have asked once and your child hasn’t responded, it is likely you don’t have their attention. Don’t repeat yourself; make sure you have their attention.
7. Do you have a “jobs’ list” or a timetable (written or visual for younger children or those with additional needs)? If you find yourself “nagging” or asking the same questions repeatedly, consider if it would help to employ a list or timetable. Then, rather than issuing a string of commands, you only need to ask one thing of them: to check the list.
8. Again, be patient and empathic. Think about how it feels to be given a list of jobs or to be regularly interrupted when you are in the middle of something. Children’s playtime and independent time is increasingly impinged on by homework, after-school activities, etc, and they may not share your priorities. By communicating to them that you understand they might be frustrated may help them to respond to your request quicker or with less fuss.
9. It may be that your child is ignoring you on purpose! You may have shown them, through previous behaviours, that you can be ignored some times. How often do you ask repeatedly, and then end up shouting? This may be sending the message that they don’t really need to pay attention until you shout. Try changing the way you deal with lack of compliance/response; try not to let the interaction escalate to the point of shouting.
10. And on that note, make sure you stay calm. When they feel upset, frustrated or threatened, children experience fight, flight or freeze response, and are unable to really listen or process what is being said. Take a deep breath, ground yourself, do whatever you need to, to get through that moment. Usually, these conflicts occur when you are in a rush and they are unable or unwilling to do as you ask. Rather than shouting at them to go and find their bag, help them look for it. Then, when things are less frantic and rushed, perhaps sit and talk about the importance of them doing as they are asked.