Need to know
- Why won’t my child listen to me? It’s a question that many parents ask and we look at ideas such as adapting your language to connect.
You’re now thinking about and trying out some of the strategies for getting your child to “listen” listed in Part 1, but this is only one half of what you are trying to achieve, the next step is to look at why your child is not doing what you ask.
Why it’s important
Kids and parents have very different goals and priorities, and unless they are aligned at some level there is always going to be some friction. For a child, having a shower is not as important as playing, which is why you can get pushback and defiance.
You also need to consider whether your child struggles with executive dysfunction, a symptom present with some neurological and mental health conditions like ADHD, Autism, anxiety and depression. Executive dysfunction affects your ability to plan, organise, focus, synthesise information, regulate your emotions and behaviour. For your child, executive dysfunction may look like this:
- regularly loses belongings
- forgets school notes or homework
- struggles to follow directions
- difficulty getting started on tasks
- getting distracted while doing a task
- difficulty moving from one task to another
- problems keeping track of time
- often loses control of emotions
- gets “stuck” or fixated on an idea
Tips & strategies
The following strategies are helpful for all children, including those with or without a diagnosis.
Become partners – rather than telling your child what to do, bring them into the process of decision making by inviting them to discuss what needs to happen and why. For example “We have 20 minutes to get to school. What do you need to do before we can leave?” or “We’ve run out of milk and need to go to the shops before they close. Can you pause your game or are you close to finishing?”
Adapt your language – small changes in how we ask things of our kids can make a significant difference in how they respond. Children diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) or Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) are easily triggered by language that is a direct demand. Small changes like putting the “Please” at the beginning of a request, or using “I wonder if” or “Maybe we could” suggest that there is a choice.
Use the carrot – find what motivates your child and include it in your requests. Using the first-then/when-then strategy is a simple and direct way to ask your child to do something that also benefits them. For example “First shower, then finish your Lego” or “First eat your dinner, then you can have dessert” or “When you’ve packed up your toys, then you can watch TV”.
Give options – we can’t always pick our battles but we can give choices that give our children autonomy and still get us where we want to be. Providing your child with two options is a perfect way to balance a request with a choice. For example, “Would you like to put on the red hat or the yellow cap?” or “Do you want to do your reading or maths first?”
Set expectations through routine – most of what we ask of our kids is rooted in our daily routines. Implementing the same routine on school mornings, after school and at bedtime sets the scaffolding for kids to do well. Consistency is probably the most important part of routines, it can take weeks to months to create habits and there will be days when your child still needs your help.
Add visuals – pictures that match instructions or routines help kids remember and visualise what needs to be done and in what sequence. Ideally the pictures would be of the child’s own belongings and spaces. For Autistic kids it is easier to connect with visuals of their own things rather than a generic image.