How To Talk to Your Kids So They Will Listen

There is a popular saying that states: “The meaning of any piece of communication is the response you get.”

What this means is that you are actually responsible for being sure that your communication lands the way you intended it to, and if it doesn’t, you are also responsible for adjusting your communication to be sure that it does.

Including with your kids.

Here’s how things usually go:

Mom, calling from the other room, or peeking around the doorway: "Come to dinner," "Please get ready for bed," "Get your shoes on,” “Brush your teeth.”

10 minutes later mom comes back in to find kid still on iPad/Xbox/Legos/book…

Mom loses shit.

Here’s where the communication breakdown occurs:

Whatever we're trying to tell our kids is always competing with a shit-ton of "noise" that goes on in their worlds. With our kids, that's usually their imagination, their iPad, their X-box, their book (if we're lucky). In my house, it's my son's Batman Legos and whatever imaginary fight the masked crusader is up to in that moment.

When we’re immersed in a book and someone calls us, we’re able to switch gears somewhat seamlessly, because our brains have been developed over decades to be able to do so.

Kids, notsomuch. 

So, it’s our job to communicate with our kids in a way that actually competes with the “noise” and has our communication land so they can hear it. 

Here is a 6-step process to help you get your communication to land so your kids are more likely to actually do what you want them to:

  1. Use touch. When we touch our kids, we are more likely break through the walls of their imaginations and capture their attention.

  2. Get down on their level. Some kids listen well with direct eye-contact, but some don’t. You’ll have to use some trial-and-error here to find what works best, but getting on their level helps kids feel safe and makes it easier for them to hear you.

  3. Let them fiddle. There is evidence to suggest that boys actually listen better when they are able to fiddle with something else; it helps give their nervous energy somewhere to go, freeing up space for them to listen. It may seem counterintuitive, but taking away the toy may not always be the way to get them to listen.

  4. Give them one thing at a time. Most kids can’t hold more than one thing in their heads at a time, so give them one thing at a time, and have them come to you for a “reward” (a kiss, a hug or a high-five) when they’ve completed each one. For more routine jobs, such as morning routines, create a check-list with a reward system.

  5. Have them repeat your message. Confirm that your child received your communication by asking them to repeat what it is you asked them to do. I always ask my son, “What did I just ask you to do?” and more often than not he’ll say, “I can’t remember.” Which is just an indicator to me that my communication didn’t land and to try again.

  6. Give yourself more time. This will take longer than shouting from the doorway or kitchen, so adjust accordingly. If you don't, you will become more stressed and will be more likely lose your shit. Allowing extra time will give you some room to breathe and help your kids get through their jobs.

Despite the fact that we feel like our kids don’t listen to us, consider that you may not be communicating with them in a way that that they can actually hear.

Remember: “The meaning of any piece of communication is the response you get.” What response are you getting? How might you adjust your communication?