Every day children are learning new things about their environment. Things that we take for granted but that their quickly developing brain still needs to understand and categorize accordingly. This can interfere with our lives as parents, making us often ask why do children not listen when we speak?
Hear me out.
As parents, we have these preexisting notions of how we want them to learn, like playing with colored blocks on a big soft carpet or walking – CAREFULLY – around the apartment.
Children need more than this. They need disorganized play, they need to test limits and they need to take risks.
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All these things will make a parent’s heart flip with anxiety but take a deep breath and let your child steer the ship sometimes. To do this, they need to explore on their terms.
5 Reasons Your Child Has Trouble Listenting
#1 Children Are Seeing Through A Different Lens
As a parent, we have to step in sometimes and make decisions our children don’t like. When this happens, it is absolutely normal behavior for them to get upset.
Look through the lens of a child, and you’ll see why:
Their world is smaller than ours, and they are wired to methodically gain independence from their caregivers. Rebelling is part of that process.
They don’t understand the urgency of getting to school on time, they don’t care if you need to pick up groceries from the store. They don’t feel the importance of going to sleep on a schedule.
So when you are moving your child towards activities that don’t interest them at the moment, their still-developing brain will shoot off a flare gun to signal “I don’t want to do this!” Cue – meltdown.
#2 Pushing Boundaries Is Important For Development
Many parents discuss with desperation those instances where they tell their child to stop doing something but in return, the child does it anyway. The cherry on the top is that this normally is accompanied by a long stare and a grin, as they throw another toy across the room one more time.
You might be thinking: “How could they be so disrespectful??!!!”
The reality is that they are testing boundaries. They have to do this to understand how the world works.
- How does mom react if I throw this toy once?
- How does mom react in I throw this toy twice?
- Is mom still mad if I throw it a third time?
- What happens if I throw it again after she said No?
They are also learning from YOU the appropriate way to respond when upset.
- What does mom do when she is upset?
- How does she speak to people she is upset with?
- How does she regulate herself when she’s upset?
By maintaining a calm demeanor you are signaling to your child that they are safe in your care. Let’s pretend you are the house that shelters your little one, they want to make sure they don’t have the power to break you down. If you get easily dysregulated when your child pushes boundaries they’ll feel unsafe in your presence and push boundaries even more. This can easily become a vicious cycle.
#3 Children Have Weak Impulse Control
Children are impulsive. Their brains are not fully developed making it hard to physically stop themselves after you’ve told them to. When parents understand this, life at home with a child can be less stressful as you’ll give both yourself and your child a break when all hell breaks loose.
Our little ones live on the pleasure principle. They’ll continue what is pleasurable to them. The lack of impulse control will guide them to seek instant gratification.
They operate on what they think will make them feel good at the moment, that’s why trying to reason with a child by pointing out delayed gratification is not developmentally appropriate.
For example. Telling a child that they have to “be good” all day in order to get TV time in the evening is not developmentally appropriate. (Also the term “be good” is too arbitrary for them to understand).
Instead, you can say, we will have lunch first, then we will watch TV, or, we are not watching TV now, we are going to do xyz.
#4 Children Are Not Receiving A Clear Message From Parents
Being a parent is so so hard. We didn’t get a degree in parenting and are just dropped off from the hospital with this little precious package we have no idea how to handle.
That is the reason it can be very hard to communicate clearly with our little ones as we don’t understand them. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking your child perceives the world like adults. You have had years of experience learning the subtle social cues of our culture that help us understand each other and live peacefully.
A common communication boundary is posing instructions like a question. This inevitably means they have an option although you didn’t mean it that way. For example, don’t say “do you want to go back home now” at the playground if you really meant to say “we are going back home now”.
#5 How You React Matters
If frustration is building up and you are left asking yourself why do children not listen, remember your child’s behavior is totally normal. It is not a true reflection of what their behavior will be as an adult. However, your behavior towards your child in those formative years can have a negative (or positive) impact on their life, so always remember to be the change you want to see in them.
I recall my father saying he initially thought parenting was about explaining the world to me until he realized children actually soak in more what they see rather than what they hear. For example, if you want your child to have long-lasting habits of eating healthy, you need to model it for them.
3 Ways To Help Your Child Listen
#1 Don’t Phrase Instructions As A Question
This is one most parents struggle with! We tend to talk in form of questions because it’s regarded as a more polite way of interacting with one another. Children won’t understand this social cue, if you set up instructions as a question, you are telling your child it’s optional.
Say: we are going to eat dinner now.
Don’t say: are you ready to eat dinner?
#2 Get Their Attention First
Don’t assume your child has an ear to you at all times. If you tell them from across the room that it’s time to put their toys away while they are playing, don’t assume they registered what you said.
Go down to their level. Get their attention. Then let them know it’s time to put toys away. Remember, they might break down in tears. It is normal, they are being honest with you about how the situation makes them feel.
#3 Wait To Explain Something After They’ve Calmed Down
If your child is upset, they will not be able to register what you say. Instead, wait for the meltdown to take its course. When they have calmed down, you can try to engage with them.
For example, if they are upset because they don’t want to share a toy, take them aside and wait for them to calm down. Then have a discussion about sharing and how to tell a friend about taking turns. Instructing your child to share in the middle of a heated moment is counterproductive.
Children Sometimes Don’t Listen And That’s OK
My toddler doesn’t listen to me on a regular basis. Before he was fully talking, I didn’t know if he understood what I was saying because I would seldom get a hint from him. Now I realize often times he just wasn’t listening.
Now at 2.5 I know he understands but tunes me out very often when he is busy focusing on something else. I don’t take offense. Instead, I know that it’s his way of telling me he can’t listen right now, so if it was a trivial question I wait until later. If it’s a time-sensitive matter, I do it myself, or if a safety issue, I physically remove him.
My goal is for our son to feel safe with me and that he can express his true feelings and know that I will be able to manage them. In time, the respect I show him will be returned tenfold. Our children use us as role models on how to behave with others.
Last, no one is perfect. We all have bad days and we all make mistakes. Give yourself grace and know that we are all in this together.
If you’ve come this far, may I suggest downloading my freebie printable to help moms connect with their toddlers!
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