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Creative Ways to Get Children to Listen

By Darah Zeledon

In today’s world where reality and cyber-reality intersect and co-exist, parents need to be creative and stay one step ahead when it comes to maintaining communication with their children. For example, many kids nowadays prefer electronic forms of communication &endash; texting, instant messaging and tweeting &endash; as a means of “developing and sustaining” relationships in lieu of old-fashioned face-to-face conversations and eye contact. We parents cannot change the ways in which our children prefer to receive, process, and deliver information. If we want to keep the lines open, we’ve got to speak their language.

Depending on the child’s age and maturity level, here are a few creative techniques parents can use to “be heard.”

Electronic dialogues. If your kid is computer savvy and spends a great deal of time building relationships this way, chances are that it will work for you, too, and he’ll be receptive. Try sending him emails, instant messages, text messages, or tweets reminding him about chores, an approaching event at school, or baseball practice. If you’re really creative and need to illustrate something that requires more than you are able to type, try using YouTube to make your point. (For example, “Hi Honey, here is the proper way to fold the laundry and make yourself dinner tonight.”) Although he’ll never admit it, he’ll appreciate your efforts to enter into his realm.

Exploiting Third-Party Eavesdropping. Ever notice how when you are on the phone and your kid is (supposedly) in “another world,” deeply absorbed in a television program or immersed in a book, the second you mention his name, his antenna pops up? Now, you’ve got his undivided attention. This is the time to tell that third party whatever you really want him to hear. This method works wonders if there are other siblings present and you need to get a message to the “unreceptive one.” For example, speaking to the decoy, aka Jane, you are indirectly sending the message to Bill. “Jane, you know nobody is allowed to watch television until all homework is done.” Bill will be all ears because now, the pressure is off of him.

Imaginary Friends. With little ones, whose active and vivid imagination is still very much a part of their daily reality, talking with them “through” their dolls, pretend hamster, or imaginary fairy godmother will penetrate much deeper than direct conversation. It also softens up your request.

Consequences and Rewards. Frankly, if the problem is that your child refuses to listen, James Lehman, MSW, founder of The Total Transformation Program, a systematic method that helps parents discipline effectively and pragmatically, affirms that “…consequences are a way of maintaining limits; rewards are a way of keeping hope going and expectations high.” In other words, talk is cheap and actions that bring results should quickly cure their “selective hearing loss.” The key here is to assign punishments befitting of the crime, ones that are age-appropriate, and most importantly, to stick to them.

To achieve results, it is imperative to keep communication with your child open and flowing. You need to know what are the toys, activities, friendships, etc., that most motivate her &endash; today. Pay close attention because today’s coveted events or pastimes could be easily and abruptly replaced tomorrow &endash; in the blink of an eye &endash; hence the need to “check-in” often. The aforementioned also holds true for rewards. Today a play-date with John may bring about compliance, but tomorrow the two children are no longer friends!

Lehman recommends that in order to parent effectively and thereby get your kids to listen, one needs to have a repertoire of rewards and consequences handy and ready to use when needed &endash; rather than inventing them on-the-fly in the heat of the moment. Bottom line: be prepared with clear-cut, well-defined consequences to specific acts of naughty behavior.

How do we measure if our children are actually listening to our advice, suggestions, or instructions?

Lehman helps us define our ultimate objective vis-à-vis setting limits for our child through the utilization of the customized reward-consequence system, namely, helping your child internalize the good behavior. The idea here is to give your child a directive and explain why just once &endash; using the creative communication avenues presented above. Now, the child should be clear as to what the expectations are and what the consequences will be if the undesired behavior continues.

If the child continues engaging in the misconduct, the consequence must follow automatically; she’ll actually be waiting and expecting it. Ironically, despite her defiance and protests, it brings her security in knowing that your system is reliable. The goal here is that “…she learns to weigh out the cost-benefit ratio of following the limits on her own.” And, by following this procedure, “you're helping your child set limits on herself,” Lehman demonstrates.

If you are able to accomplish the above, you’ve helped your child internalize an act of righteous behavior by parenting effectively. Congratulate yourself on your victory!

Darah Zeledon is a devoted wife, mother of five children under nine, freelance writer, aspiring author, small business owner, fitness enthusiast, and caffeine junkie. Sometimes philosophical and reflective, other times witty and self deprecating, Darah's unique and incurably optimistic perspective about raising children in today’s unstable world is strongly influenced by her intense personal experiences and those running a large household and various businesses abroad in Latin America.

Darah has a BS in clinical psychology and an MS in international relations with an emphasis in conflict resolution. She has labored professionally in both studied domains and has also worked in industries such as fitness, education, public speaking, and media. None of her formal education or work experience has prepared her for the most challenging feat of all: maintaining her sanity and sense of self while mothering five “dynamic and relentlessly inquisitive” children. You can read more of her musings and insights at, or find her on Facebook at Warrior-Mom-straight-talk-from-the-heart/151800674859203, or on twitter:@thewarriormom.

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