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Ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall? After twenty-one years of parenting, I think I’ve been through every stage of parenting several times, and every single stage involves children with selective hearing.

Some days they don’t even seem to recognize that you’re speaking.

Other days they clearly hear you but something is getting messed up between hearing and understanding.

We get frustrated and we repeat, nag, yell, or just do the thing ourselves.

And unfortunately, that teaches our children that it’s okay not to listen.

So what have I learned over my years of trial and error, mistakes and … well, let’s call them learning experiences? I often say that the first forty years of parenting are the hardest, so I’m twenty years from being an expert. Still, I’ve probably learned a few things that you can learn from. (And hey, I’m head and shoulders above where I was twenty years ago!)

When possible, be in the same space

“Hey, Jack! Get down here! No, don’t yell at me from upstairs!”

How often do we do that? We holler down the stairs, out the window, or across the house, but of we don’t want them to holler back, do we?

Children are more likely to listen and follow through if you speak while in their presence. Stand in front of your child and say what needs to be said.

Remove distractions

Stand in front of the TV, pick up the toy they’re using, pull the earbuds out of their ears, put your hand on the book they’re reading.

The distractions available today are more powerful than ever before. My parents had difficulty competing with a 13″ black and white tv that only had three channels – now we’re trying to compete with Minecraft, Netflix, and a whole lot more.

Remove the distraction before attempting to gain their attention.

Use their names

People are more responsive when their name is used.

Use your child’s name at the beginning of the request.

Anything else can be interpreted as normal parental noise and is quickly ignored.

Give a reason for any direction

Instead of saying, “Put away your clothes” try “Put away your clothes so you can play before dinner.”

Many children don’t like to be bossed around, but are much more receptive when a logical reason is provided.

Some parents dream of being obeyed instantly and without question. These parents aren’t realistic.

Use appropriate vocabulary

It’s not possible to address an 18-year old and a 3-year old in the same manner.

Ensure that you’re being age-appropriate. Speak in a way that is tailored to the child in question. You’ll quickly learn how to address each child in the most effective manner.

Control your volume

When you get louder, the child gets louder.

Convey your emotion with the words you choose rather than your volume.

Children can be sound sensitive and getting loud rarely has a positive outcome. Maintain peace and order by speaking at a sensible volume.

Be firm

Children aren’t fools.

Once they learn you can be out maneuvered, they’ll continue to do so again and again.

You only increase the likelihood of resistance by caving in on occasion. Your children should learn that resistance is futile.

Be consistent

Did you know they can train mice to press buttons a certain number of times in order to get treats? Mice can’t count, but they can learn from consistency. When the buttons don’t provide a treat on any predictable schedule, even mice don’t know how to act.

Children are far brighter than mice, of course. But they will also do better if you’re consistent. They’ll know what to expect and what they can trust.

Now one point with consistency and how important it is. Years ago, visiting with my Old Order Mennonite friend, I was shocked that she let her children get away with minor misbehaviors without making any comment.

When I asked, she told me something very important. “Unless they’re doing something serious enough that I’m willing to get up and actually correct them, I don’t say anything. It’s better that I’m silent instead of teaching them to ignore me.”

Offer alternatives

Everyone wants more control over their life, children included.

“Do you want broccoli or carrots for dinner?”

“Would you like to wear this shirt or that shirt?”

It may seem trivial, but children value having a little bit of control. Just ensure that you’re providing alternatives that work for you!

While you’re providing alternatives, though, remember to pick your battles. As long as the clothing is decent for public, and suits the weather, I let my children choose what they wear. We often joke that our elder daughter dresses like a homeless princess.

Be clear in your expectations

“Pick up your room” may not be enough.

“Pick up your toys and put them away. Then put your dirty clothes in the hamper” is likely to provide more satisfying results. Give your child as much information as they need to meet your expectations.

You can get your children to listen. Be consistent in how you speak to your child and be sure to use their name in order to get their attention. Remove any distractions prior to engaging with your child. With patience and a few strategies, you can have a productive conversation with your child that provides real results.

Just Plain Living

Children everywhere have selective hearing. Here are some ways to get them to pay attention and (maybe) hear what you have to say.

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