Listen: Dr Justin Coulson shares tips for parents.
When it comes to getting children to listen, even the best of parents struggle at times. If you’re one of them, then you’ll appreciate these tips from parenting author and researcher Dr Justin Coulson.
Tip 1 – Set Realistic Expectations
As a parent of six children himself, Dr Coulson says the most important rule of thumb in giving kids instructions, is to set realistic expectations.
“Quite often we think because our children are big enough to walk and talk, that they’re big enough to listen and comply and comprehend everything that we’re saying,” he said. “We sometimes treat them like they’re little adults – but they’re not, they’re kids.
“We’ve got to remember their developmental milestones, we’ve got to remember that sometimes they’re really hungry or angry, or lonely or tired, or sick or stressed. And that sometimes no matter how hard we try, they’re not going to listen. That’s probably the most important thing.
“We’ve got to be willing to be flexible from time to time, because sometimes they won’t be.”
Tip 2 – Stay Calmer Than Your Child
Staying calm is crucial. Dr Coulson attributes this piece of advice to the famous parenting author, Steve Biddulph.
“I don’t know about you but when somebody starts to get really pushy or aggressive towards me, and starts upping the ante towards me, I usually turn off,” he said. “I move away, I don’t want to be around them. So we’ve got to stay calm.
“I remember hearing Steve Biddulph once say that the parent’s job is to always stay calmer than the child.”
Tip 3 – Lower Your Voice, Speak Softly
If you’re speaking to your child and your child is not listening, don’t get louder – get softer!
“When somebody speaks really softly to me, I listen really carefully,” Dr Coulson said. “It makes you lean in, you get close, you want to know what’s going on. That will usually change the mood in the house.”
Tip 4 – Make Eye Contact
Like many parents, Dr Coulson said he will find himself from time to time, “talking to the air”.
“I’ll sometimes say “Will somebody please put that away”, or “Can I have some help in here please?”, and of course everybody thinks that everybody else is being spoken to but not them,” he said. “So it’s really useful if you can look at the person you’re speaking to, call them by name, and look into their eyes while you’re speaking softly and calmly. Then there’s no question you’re definitely talking to them, and they’ve got to listen.”
Tip 5 – Consider Your Timing
Give your child time to respond, and have respect for what they’re doing at the time of your request.
“Sometimes we ask our children to do things at very inconvenient times,” Dr Coulson said, “like when they’re right in the middle of their favourite TV show, or they’re three minutes away from the end of their favourite game, and they’re about to get their highest score ever.
“And while sometimes they simply need to act now because things have to happen, we don’t always have to demand immediate compliance. Sometimes we can say, “I’ve got something that I’d like you to do in the next 10 minutes”, and give them a little bit of flexibility around the time.”
Tip 6 – Are They Capable?
We should always consider childrens’ capability, according to Dr Coulson. If your child has done something that you’ve asked them to do, but it’s not done perfectly, consider whether your expectations are realistic.
If they have done a great job in their young eyes, or done the best according to their junior abilities, thank them instead of criticising for the imperfections.
Tip 7 – Give Them Choices
Dr Coulson is an advocate of giving options and choices when giving children responsibilitiies.
“Our children are much more likely to listen when we’re talking with them about options,” he said, “rather than constantly demanding that they do what we say when we say it.”
“It’s so much nicer if we say, ‘Would you like to do this, or would you like to do that’. They’re more likely to listen when we’re engaging them rather than lecturing them.”
- Dr Justin Coulson is a parenting speaker, author and researcher, and founder of happyfamilies.com.au.
- His book “How To Get Your Kids To Really Listen” addresses this topic in more detail.