It’s a weeknight, and I put my almost 3-year-old to bed nearly an hour ago. But for the third time tonight, she has popped her head out of her bedroom and asked if it’s time to get up yet.
She knows it isn’t. She has a nightlight in her room that changes colors between night and day, and she knows exactly how it works and exactly when she is allowed to get out of bed. She knows it’s not time to get up yet, and she is simply testing my resolve.
For the third time tonight, I get up and put her back to bed. I do it quickly, as all the books I’ve ever read have suggested, and I remind her once more, “It’s time for bed. Don’t come out until your light changes.”
Some nights, this works on the first try. Others, like tonight, she tests me. And I wonder, is there a better way to get her to listen? Here are some tips.
1. Be sure your child actually hears you.
As the mother of a toddler, bedtime struggles are not the only time I wonder if my child is listening. There are days when I give her instructions and she keeps her back to me, continuing to do whatever it was she was doing before I spoke, as if I hadn’t spoken at all. I am absolutely positive during those moments that my toddler is just flat-out ignoring me, with intention.
But according to Erica Reischer, a Ph.D. writing for Psychology Today, kids under the age of 14 are especially susceptible to distraction. Which means giving them the benefit of the doubt is a good idea.
With young kids, that can mean getting down to their level and lightly touching their arm to get their attention. With older kids, looking for that eye contact to ensure they are hearing you might do the trick.
2. Watch your volume.
If you’re a parent who is always yelling, the power of that increased volume will wane over time. When kids are constantly hearing yelling, they start to tune it out as being just more noise. They no longer jump and react as they might if your yelling were less frequent. They become so used to it that it loses the ability to grab their attention.
So save your yelling for those moments when you truly need them to react immediately, like when they are about to run out into the street. Also try to keep your voice even and calm otherwise, even, or perhaps especially, when you are disciplining.
3. Focus on effective consequences.
Obviously, part of getting your children to listen to you is providing consequences when they fail to do so. But those consequences have to be reasonable and effective.
Effective consequences are those that fit the crime. For instance, taking away a toy that has been used to hit a sibling. They should also have an end in sight and give a timeline of when, and how, that toy can be earned back. Consequences should also be followed up by a conversation, asking your child what they will do differently next time, and going over what led to the consequence this time.
Once you have that lesson tucked away, you can refer back to it in the future if you see your child on the verge of making the same mistake.
4. Remain consistent.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, when the rules are always changing, kids will start looking for ways to push the limits, just to find out what those limits are. That means one of the best ways to get your kids to listen to you is to be consistent in how you communicate with them, the rules you lay down, and the consequences you provide.
This consistency may take some time to sink in, especially for younger kids who are still figuring out just what their boundaries are. But the more consistent you remain, the more likely your kids are to listen and obey when it counts.
5. Remember how old they are.
Young children often aren’t going to be able to remember more than one or two instructions at once. Their limit is typically: Go to your room and put your socks in the hamper.
Even older children may have a difficult time keeping track of complex instructions or a new set of guidelines for something they are expected to do later in the day. Set your children up for success by remembering their age level restrictions and not expecting them to remember anything too detailed. Then, create tools to help them remember anything that isn’t happening right now. For instance, for children old enough to read, a list they can look at after school might ensure they stay on task until you get home.
With younger kids, it’s healthy to remember that while they may be listening, you still might have to repeat yourself several times before the message sinks in. Because kids test boundaries, but they also sometimes just forget.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to go put my toddler back to bed.