The topic of children listening came up in multiple conversations I had this week, so I decided to go to my Facebook Balanced Heart Moms Group to see what they thought. I posted the following poll question:
“Do your kids listen to you?”
Yes = 5
No = 1
Sometimes = 17
The interesting thing is when I posted the question, I only posted Yes or No as the options to choose. One of the other members of the group added “Sometimes”, which as you can see became the most popular answer. So, I asked another question in the comments “Sometimes they listen the 1st time? Or sometimes they listen the 3rd or 4th or 5th time?” One mama replied, “Sometimes the first and sometimes the 3rd, 4th and 5th!” If we look at the numbers, 78% of the moms who replied don’t feel their children listen to them at least some of the time. This is obviously a hot button for many parents regardless of the age of their child.
A few years ago I posted a blog entitled “Are You Listening?” where I explored the idea of whether or not we had actually taught our children how to listen. Today I want to explore why we think our children should listen using a couple of the situations I experienced this week.
One example involved a sports team where the players were not listening to the coaches. Why should the kids be listening in this scenario? The coaches have knowledge of a skill the players are trying to learn. If the players listen and follow instructions, the players should improve their skills which should translate to winning games. If the players don’t execute the skills in the instructed way, they are “not listening”. Is it possible the players who are “not listening” do not understand what is being asked of them? Is it possible the “not listening” players do not have the hand eye coordination to execute the skill? Is it also possible that the players at this age do not all have the same motivation, that many of them have been signed up for these activities because their parents want them to do it? Is it possible the players are tired and hungry from a long day of sitting in the classroom? All of these are factors that come into play once they hit the practice field and have an impact on why they might not listen.
A second example involves household chores. I will spare you the specific details as I’m sure you can fill the in with conversations you’ve had in your own house around this same topic. All you need to know is the conversation included the question “How many times do I have to ask in order for this to get done?”. Whether the chore is picking up clothes from the bedroom floor, putting backpacks in the right spot or rinsing dishes after they’ve been used, chances are sometimes your child listens and does it the first time and sometimes they do it after the 3rd or 4th or 5th time. Sometimes the child doesn’t do what you asked because they really weren’t listening when you said it. Sometimes they listen, but when it comes time to do what you asked they say, “I forgot” because they’ve gotten distracted doing something else. (If you want to read more about forgetful behavior, check out this article written by Deborah Godfrey.) Why should they be listening in this scenario? We try to teach our children to be responsible by asking them to pick up after themselves and help with things around the house. We believe we should only have to ask them once or twice and then they should remember. It’s easy for us to forget we have years of living on our own, picking up after ourselves and taking care of things we bought with money we worked hard for. Our children don’t have that perspective, the things that are important in their lives (friends, videos games, playing, school) are not the same as what is important in our lives.
Here is where the hot button comes in, many parents feel if they are listening, the child will do what was asked. If they didn’t do what was asked, then they weren’t listening. Is it possible that they did in fact listen, they just didn’t do it? Is it possible it’s not as much about listening, but about our expectations of what will happen after they listen? One part of listening involves hearing what is said, but the other part involves responding in the manner we expect them to. When our kids fall short and don’t react they way we expect them to, we get frustrated and think they aren’t listening.
As parents we see the big picture of how these actions will benefit our child in the short term and the long run. I know parents have the best of intentions. We are trying to prepare our kids for what is to come, but they can’t fully grasp what that means. They are more concerned with what happened earlier today at school or if they can figure out how to do their math homework. They aren’t worried about how messy their first apartment will be and we shouldn’t be either. Yes, today you might have to ask them to do something ten times. Today you might have to watch them do it to make sure that it gets done without them getting distracted. Today it might feel like they never listen to anything that you say. But they are. Your words and actions are sinking in and they don’t even realize it. The day will come when they pick up their clothes without being asked or use the right technique on the playing field or wash their dish without a reminder. That day might be tomorrow, or next week or in three years, you’ll never know when the day will come, but it will. Until then, give yourself a break and take a deep breath. Don’t worry so much about listening, rather connect with the nature of your child and let that guide you to getting the results you are looking for.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.