5 Empowering Ways to Get Your Kids to Listen

Be Expressive

State Your Expectations

The situation Amy let her kids turn on the TV before they left for school. After one show was over, she'd take Adrian, 4, to get dressed while Angela, 7, kept watching. But when it was Angela's turn to get ready, she'd whine, "Just ten more minutes. Please? Pleeeeeeeaaase!"

The old way Amy would yell: "No, you've watched enough. That's it." Angela would complain some more. Amy would yell, "I said no!" Then, after more begging, she'd add, "You've already had more TV time than Adrian. You're being ungrateful."

The better way Let your kids know your plan ahead of time. Amy should tell Angela something like this: "After you've brushed your teeth and are totally dressed and ready to go, you can watch a little more TV while I get your brother dressed. That way you'll be on time for school."

The result The first time Amy tried this tactic, Angela turned off the TV without saying a word. But the second morning, she refused and started bellyaching again. Amy quickly realized she hadn't reminded Angela of the plan in advance this time. So the following morning she stated it again clearly: "When I leave with Adrian, I expect you to turn off the TV." Success. She finds the strategy equally effective for other situations ("No starting new games until the one you've just played is put away").

Name Their Feelings

The situation Carrie's daughter Tatum, 6, was happily blowing bubbles with a friend. Suddenly, Tatum stormed into the room, wailing, "Mina's not giving me a turn."

The old way "I'd say something like, ?There's no reason to cry over this,'?" Carrie says. What would Tatum do? The opposite -- cry more and likely ruin the rest of the playdate.

The better way Parents need to listen too. "Everyone wants to know they've been heard and understood," Faber argues. Telling a child to stop crying sends the message that her feelings don't matter. Kids often cry (or whine, yell, or stomp) because they can't communicate why they're upset or don't know how to deal with the emotion. "You need to give them the words to express it," Faber says.

The result Next time, Carrie looked Tatum in the eye and described what she thought her daughter was feeling: "You seem really frustrated!" Tatum stared at her in surprise and then announced, "I am." Carrie held her tongue to keep from giving advice ("You need to ?"), defending her friend ("Mina deserves a turn too"), or getting philosophical ("That's life"). Instead, she said, "Oh." Tatum kept talking: "I wish I had two bottles of bubbles." Carrie asked, "How can we work this out so it's fair to you and Mina?" Tatum said by taking turns. Carrie suggested they use a kitchen timer, and Tatum explained the plan to Mina. Everyone wound up happy. "It's hard to stop yourself from saying too much," says Carrie. She's right. Phrases like, "You never listen to me" and "How many times do I have to tell you?" become ingrained in our brain. During the workshop, my friends and I realize that it's going to take a bit of practice to stop uttering these expressions. But that's the entire point: to change the way we talk to our kids, so they not only understand what we're trying to say but actually want to listen.

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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