How Not To Talk To Children Who Don't Listen
Most children don't listen much of the time. In fact, Sandra Rief, a noted educational specialist, reports research that suggests children only retain about 25% of what they hear as compared to 50% of what they see and hear. In parenting, as well as teaching, there is too much reliance on talking as the primary means of getting children to learn new behaviors or follow the rules. This situation is exacerbated for those children who have problems that interfere with their self-management skills.
At least one out of every eight children has some type of biologically-based problem that makes them more challenging to parent. This includes children with attentional and hyperactivity disorders, learning disabilities, hypersensitive sensory systems (e.g., oversensitive to touch or sound), and mood disorders. The latter are children who are especially over reactive to change, become irritable with great frequency, are especially needy of attention, and have very low frustration tolerance. All of these problematic behaviors are inborn, though they can be influenced by experience. Children with these various problems are even less able to learn by listening, yet parents spend a lot of time verbally explaining what they are doing wrong.
We talk to our children too much. We seem to expect them to be miniature adults and use language as the primary means of managing their lives. Children learn by seeing and doing and playing much more successfully than by listening. If you add any type of problem that makes being attentive or cooperative more difficult, then these facts about learning and retention become even more pronounced.
The key here is to develop creative ways of communicating important messages that best fit the child's learning strengths. There needs to be much more emphasis on using multi-sensory approaches, mixing visual, tactile, and even musical modalities along with traditional verbal messages. Here's where the fun begins because it is a matter of being creative and discovering strategies that work with your particular child. For example, with impulsive children, create two-column charts with paired headings such as ready/aim/fire vs ready/fire/aim or on mark/get set/go vs on mark/go/get set. During the day record which of the child's behaviors fell under one of the columns. Reviewing and rehearsing the proper sequences plus rewarding the proper sequences helps the child by combining visual and action (role play) modes. The rehearsing is often done more effectively by using a family of animal puppets and by switching around the roles.
Other ideas include giving out those bright orange speeding tickets for not stopping something or giving out plastic ears for not listening. Create Velcro traffic lights (large circles of red, yellow and green) and a child figure that will stick on - practice having the child place the figure in the right place in reviewing different situations that will be coming up. A card with the circles on it can be carried around and shown to the child as a reminder - Which are you supposed to be doing now? Help a child learn to keep his cool by asking what visual image makes him think of being cool - create a large picture of that image -have the child practice thinking of that image when he is about to get upset.
One major problem is that parents too often don't reinforce success. So, when children do listen, hand them a card that says "I brake for parents" which they can collect and turn in for a reward. Similarly, use "I kept my cool." cards with the same image the child created for herself in the earlier example.
Create charts for morning and bedtime schedules. Pictures of clock hands (set the chart on the bedroom wall next to a large clock) with a picture of what the child should be doing at that time creates structure and helps with sequencing, a frequent problem for these children. The parent asks which task the child is doing, if the clock faces match and, if behind schedule, what may happen, vs possibility of bonus if on or ahead of schedule (e.g., some extra reading or playing time with the parent).
Another memory/schedule helper is music. Have a special song that is played during the getting dressed or getting washed activity (can even make it a game to finish before the song does). Use special songs as a reminder that it's about to be dinner time, homework time, or bedtime. This allows the child to prepare for a transition. Discover what music may be soothing to a child (challenging children often have difficulty calming themselves) and play it as part of the going-to-sleep routine (soft jazz can work very well).
When there is a disagreement, the parent must resist getting sucked in to getting angry or taking too much responsibility. Create cards with a picture of a vacuum cleaner; the parent has the child hand her one every time she gets "sucked in" to the child's entrapments. Note that a number of these techniques are designed to break tensions and give everyone a chance to regain self-control to work out a solution. For example, play "freeze" (nobody moves) or "snail" (everybody moves and talks ver-r-y slowly) whenever the situation is starting to overheat. For problem solving, try a pad with a picture of a brain with a large padlock around it - the "Brain Lock" pad. When there's a disagreement, call for the pad and everyone sits down and tries to make a list of alternative solutions until you find one that both parties can agree to. It forces learning effective conflict-resolution skills but introduces a visual component instead of just words.
This is just a sample of possible ideas. The key points are that these children need more than words to help them manage their behavior and that the parent-child team works together to find some clever, multi-sensory techniques to help the child achieve better self-control. Replace lectures with attention-getting, higher memory techniques and your child may gradually become more successful at looking before leaping.
Back to Family | Back to ParenTalk
Top | Home | My
Practice | Parenting & Marriage Advice | Resources