Do your kids have their back to you when you’re talking, or just keeping going about their business as if they didn’t even hear you? Don’t take it personally – most kids go through periods when they just seem to hear what they want to hear. Everything else goes over their head or out the other ear. They might be distracted, trying to test you, avoiding an issue, or just too tired to really focus.
When your child isn’t listening to you, it’s important to reconnect with them. Establishing a personal connection both encourages your child to pay more attention to what you’re saying, and shows your child that what they think and feel matters to you. These 14 strategies can help you establish that connection and communicate more effectively with your child.
1. Make a direct connection with your child. This could be lowering yourself to their height and making eye contact to bring their attention to you, or putting a hand on their arm or back to connect through touch.
2. Be as brief as possible. Kids naturally zone out after and can’t process as much as adults can. Make sure you get your main message across concisely and clearly.
3. Engage your child in the conversation. Often parenting conversations go largely in one direction, from the parent to the child. If you ask your child questions and address their thoughts as you go along, your child is more likely to stay focused and keep participating in the conversation.
4. Remove distractions. If there’s lots of stimulation around, it’s going to be hard for your child to pay attention to what you’re saying. If you have something important to talk about, consider taking your child to a quiet, comfortable location where there aren’t a lot of distractions. This might mean moving from the play room to the living room, giving your child a special snack of cookies and milk at the kitchen counter, or sitting on their bed for a short chat right before they fall asleep.
5. Stop what you are doing and pay full attention to your conversation with your child. Our kids often model our own behavior. If we are partially distracted while we talk to them, it’s more likely that they will ignore us and be partially distracted themselves. If we give them our full attention, they will more likely give us theirs.
6. Think about why your child might be ignoring you. Is there something in what you’re saying that might be overwhelming? Or do you think your child might be tired? Try to address the cause of why they might not be paying attention, and then return to your message.
7. Use hand gestures and, when possible, objects that go along with what you want to communicate. Children have very alert, active senses. The more senses you engage while communicating, the easier it becomes for your child to pay attention.
8. Talk to your child frequently about positive things. If you tend to communicate mostly when your child has done something wrong, it’s natural for your child to start tuning you out because they don’t want to be criticized. If you communicate regularly, however, encouraging them a lot and admonishing only when necessary, they are much more likely to pay attention and desire to hear what you have to say.
9. Listen well when your child talks to you. If they see you paying them this respect and attention, they will understand what you expect from them when you are speaking.
10. Motivate your child. If what you are telling your child is demanding or challenging, your child might zone out because they don’t know how to approach it or understand why it’s important. By motivating them at the beginning, you give them reasons to want to put forth the required effort.
11. Implement specific consequences when your child doesn’t listen. First try using positive forms of encouragement to help your child pay attention, but if that doesn’t work, begin implementing logical consequences. Consistency in implementing consequences will help your child learn and respond to your expectations.
12. Use an uplifting tone of voice. Sometimes you’ll have to be more serious, but when possible, sound cheerful. It’s easier for a child to listen to a positive tone of voice than a negative one. Even when you have to adopt a firm tone of voice, try to sound caring as opposed to threatening.
13. Find new ways of saying old ideas. Do you think your child might be ignoring you because they’ve heard what you’ve said before, still aren’t succeeding at it, but don’t want to hear it again? If this is your situation, try to find a new way (new examples or stories, different words, etc.) to communicate your message. Sometimes your child will understand you much better when you’ve rephrased the same idea in a few different ways.
14. Do something to make your child laugh (tickle your toddler, say a joke to catch your child’s attention, etc.). After you’ve caught their attention, deliver your message.
Do you already have your child’s attention but are still looking for ways to communicate more effectively? Read Communicating Effectively with Your Child for ideas on helping your child understand what you’re trying to say.