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Getting your child to listen

Teaching children to listen and follow instructions effectively has been a human problem since the beginning of time. For parents, when trying to improve a child's ability to listen and follow instructions, it is not enough to just put a stop to the child's current behavior, you need to teach the child what to do and how to do it.

Instead of waving your magic wand and solving your child's problem, give your child the wand and teach him/her how to use it.

This is what the young R.J. learns in my book The WORST Day of My Life EVER (2011, Boys Town Press):

“When you need to listen to someone, this is what you need to do:

Look right at the person who is talking to you.

Please do not speak until he is through.

Show that you've heard what he's trying to say, by nodding your head and saying ‘OK.’

When you need to follow instructions, this is what you should do.

Look right at the person who is talking to you.

Say ‘OK' to the person as soon as she's through.

Do what you've been asked, and do it Right Now!

When you're finished check back with her.

Now you know how!”

If you have a child who struggles with listening and following instructions, here are a few tips that might help:

Be genuine

- If you want a child to really listen to you when you are talking, you must model good listening skills. Look at the child who is talking and use your eyes, your ears and your body language to show that you are listening to what they are saying as opposed to just hearing their voice.

Play Simon Says

- Role play and model listening and following instructions. In order for a child to understand what it means to really listen and follow instructions, they must know firsthand what the skill looks like, sounds like, feels like, etc. They must also know what it looks like, sounds like and feels like when they are not listening and following instructions.

Pump up the positives

— Catch a child doing something right and notice it. “You get more bees in this world with honey than you ever do with vinegar.” The more often you sincerely praise a child for attempting to listen and follow instructions, the harder they will work in the future to earn additional approval. Use individual rewards whenever a child demonstrates effective listening and following instruction skills.

Keep instruction time shor

t — It is very difficult for a child to listen intently for longer than about 5 minutes. Don't use 60 words to explain something if it only takes six.

Don't give too many instructions

all at once — Use a step-by-step approach filled with pauses and praise.

Let them know when it is time to “actively listen.”

Fun sayings like “1, 2, 3 … look at me!” or “Give me five … minutes of your time!” can be helpful. Allow your child to make up his own jingle.