Listening is not obeying

By Fotini Koronidou

We are very often asked by parents how we manage to “convince” young children to listen to us.  
Well, we are sorry to disappoint but we do not “convince” them of anything. The ace up our sleeves is hidden behind the words: connection and communication.

There is a deeper connection behind the words being said.
People (both old and young!) will not (and should not!) automatically listen and fulfill what you ask them to do just because you command them to. Children should know that listening is not obeying. Listening for them should mean hearing the words someone they respect tells them and understanding what the meaning is. If they disagree, they should know that they are going to be heard and that they may always express their disagreements if they have any. They should know that a healthy conversation is one of back and forth; of listening and speaking.

They are little people and they have their own opinions.
Based on our experience, when children are not being heard they feel disappointed, angry and frustrated. They feel that they have disconnected from someone, who at that moment is not listening and understanding them. They start showing signals expressing their need for that connection again; they need you to hear them and understand them. We have found over the years, that children are amazing sensors, and they will immediately enter a power struggle with you if you are asking them to give up their free will and ‘listen’ to you, because you simply said so. Very often (although not the only reason), children end up having tantrums because they cannot handle the overwhelming feeling of not being heard. Some children might ignore you or reply with a question without answering to what you have told them. They want to earn time and delay themselves from doing what you told them. There are also times that children do not want to communicate at that specific time, but this does not mean that they are “not listening” to you (a term we hear very often from parents at their wits end!)

Work on cooperation.
You might tell them something and there is no reply, immediately you guess “maybe they haven’t heard me” and you tell them again…radio silence. You will try again but the result is the same. Then you get frustrated, and you lose the game. You need to remember that if you want them to listen to you, make sure you listen to them first. At school, we want our students to want to cooperate with us not because we need them to but because there is such a great bond between us that leads them to really want to cooperate with us. Cooperation is not gathered through control and fear. Cooperation is created through understanding, respecting and loving each other. Children will follow instructions, rules and boundaries because they understand them, respect them and agree with them.

The connection
This is not a one-sided effort. Get down to your child’s level and listen to them. Show respect towards them not only because it is their right, but because their opinion matters. Being a child, it does not mean that you are not a person with opinions, thoughts and feelings.

Think about it yourself.
Wouldn’t you be reluctant to listen to someone controlling? How would it make you feel if another person is demanding from you to simply listen to them?

Tips that will help you “hear”:
1. Consider timing: Is it the right time to bring up a topic and start a conversation? Choose a time when a child is ready to listen – when they are not hungry, when they are not tired and when they are calm.

2. Give them a choice: giving them a choice is giving them the power to decide themselves, they feel valued and respected, they feel heard.
4. Be consistent: you want to set boundaries, but you are not following them yourself. You are giving them mixed signals; you need to be an example. You need to insist on following the boundaries you have set. Set the boundaries with them, put them in the powerful position to use their critical thinking and decide on what is right.
5. Set the right environment to have a conversation. During dinner time at the table, or comfortably on your sofa, have all your attention on your child and do not get distracted by external factors such as your phone. Talk to them, listen to them and make eye contact while you do so.
6. Do not focus on the don’ts but the dos. The most dangerous trap that every parent has fallen into is that you may tend to focus on what our children don’t do well instead of focusing on what they do well – “you shouldn’t have done that”, “this is wrong”… Instead, try to focus on their positive behaviors more – “It was very kind of you to give me my bag, thank you”, “Thank you for being such a good brother to your sister”

Based on our own experiences over the many years we have spent with children, we have learned that children are no different to adults in many ways and they have many of the same needs: they need to be heard, they need to be respected and they need to be understood.

And they should.