Several weeks ago I found myself in a situation that (unfortunately) wasn't new, and really annoyed me. I was arguing with my child.
Throughout the course of a regular day I would repeat a direction one, two, three, several times. I knew he was hearing me, but I felt like he wasn't listening. So of course it seemed that I must repeat, right? That day ended with me loosing my temper, D crying, and me feeling like a lousy parent. But the realization had finally come down on me like a ton of bricks. The arguing needed to end. If I was asking my son to do something I wanted him to listen.
Today I saw that all our hard work had paid off. D has been listening more, following directions more quickly, and he and I are overall having a better time together. I'm not perfect and he still has (completely normal) toddler rage from time to time but in general things are running more smoothly on a day to day basis. Well, what changed, you might ask. A couple things
1. Clear expectations - My child had come to realize that when I asked him to do something once that didn't mean that he had to do it right then. He could continue playing, acting as though he didn't hear me. He could walk away, roll on the floor, talk about something else. Basically anything but do what I asked. So the first thing that needed to be changed was his understanding of my expectation, and me expressing it so he understood.
I started by giving him a warning at the beginning of the day (Today, when mommy asks you to do something you need to listen the first time. If mommy asks you two or three times, that is too many). This warning should be repeated often throughout the day (Remember how we are going to be good listeners when mommy asks you to do something today? I know you're going to be a good helper!). It's a simple thing but the reminder does help keep it fresh in the mind of a child. I also tired to remind him during times that didn't necessarily require him to be listening, like if we were playing cars or headed to the store.
2. Put yourself on mute - Oh my goodness. When I first became aware of the situation I realized that I was definitely part of the problem. I felt like a broken record because I sounded like one! I had to be a lot more cognizant of asking something once, then providing some wait time instead of rushing into the repeat 2 (3, 4, 5) times more! If a second reminder was required (and at the beginning it was, like all.the.time) I would preface it with a reminder of how we were going to be listeners to mommy.
3. Be prepared to follow through - For us, short time outs work. But I realize they are not for everyone. A time out should be used as just that, a time out of the situation where the child can regroup and come back fresh. In our home, you must sit on the step for time out, no running away or going upstairs. I set a timer and once the time goes off you can return to normal activity. NOW, if I asked D to do something and he refused that does not mean a time out gets him out of it. It just means I save it until he returns (are you ready to be listener? Great! Please put your books in the box). For us this normally works. Not always, but at least most of the time now.
So at this point, I ask once and allow some time to follow through. If I have to ask again I follow it up with a warning (ou said you wanted to ride bikes outside but if you aren't listening we will stay inside until you are). Especially if D really wants to do something, this usually works.
4. Finally, praise, praise, praise! Children need all the positive affirmation they can get. Be specific. Good job just doesn't cut it. Point out exactly what you liked that they were doing (D, thank you for picking up your cars when mommy asked. Thanks for helping to keep our home safe. - We talk about how loose cars could make someone slip and fall). Feedback for kids needs to be specific, relatively quick, and often. <---SO IMPORTANT
D's preschool teachers are excellent at this. They give the kids tons of positive feedback and also run a tight ship. I really noticed how they were using feedback when D started coming home giving me affirmation for going to work or making dinner (Mama, nice job how you go to work). .
Expect all this to take time. Children love to test their limits, it's how they learn! It's developmentally appropriate. I had one of my kindergarteners do this very thing today and he's six. So don't be surprised if you need to revisit the listening boot camp from time to time. I find that we will be going good now, then there will be a few days where we back slide. I personally have a hard time when my own child will not follow directions and blatantly ignores me so this was something I wanted to address in our home. If you are one of those parents that has a lovely little listener (and I know they're out there, I was one!) count your blessings tonight! But truthfully, it is slow going and some days feel like 2 steps back. Keep on keeping on and eventually you and your little will have a stronger understanding of each other.