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"My Children Don't Listen to Me!"

Given that most parents confess that the majority of the interactions they have with their children are task-oriented, it's fair to say that our kids assume most of our requests are aimed at reducing their fun. If you look at it from their perspective, it makes sense that they would try to tune us out!
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Family of four on bed, children (6-8) jumping, side view
Family of four on bed, children (6-8) jumping, side view

It doesn't matter how many times I tell my kids to do something, unless I do something dramatic like yelling or unplugging their video game, they don't listen to me. Help!

When our children see us coming they know we're probably going to either a) ask them to do something they'd rather not or b) tell them to stop doing something fun.

Given that most parents confess that the majority of the interactions they have with their children are task-oriented, it's fair to say that our kids assume most of our requests are aimed at reducing their fun. If you look at it from their perspective, it makes sense that they would try to tune us out! Here are some suggestions for improving the response rate with your kids:

• Commit to more friendly interactions. Try to have at least one interaction a day with each of your kids that is strictly about connecting with them. Join them where they are and ask what they're up to. Invite them to tell you a joke. Or surprise them with a ridiculously big hug!

• Be silly. Deliver your request as though you're a newscaster. Speak in a funny accent. Gesture wildly. When children catch the aroma of playfulness they find it much harder to tune out their parents.

• Don't take their behavior personally. Many times we make situations worse because of what we make a child's behavior mean. Resist the urge to take it personally when they don't come to dinner or turn off the TV. It's not personal. Repeat: It isn't personal! Except occasionally. (See next tip)

• Strengthen connection. When I work privately with kids who are awful at listening, they often tell me that they feel ignored by their parents! Make sure your kids aren't dishing out the same treatment they feel get from you. Be interested in what they have to say. Notice the color of their eyes when they're talking. Re-phrase what they've said so they get the sense that you are genuinely listening. Model good listening if you want them to do the same.

• Dig into the past. Some parents have extremely negative reactions to their kids when they don't listen--far more intense than the situation might deserve. Do you feel like a five year old when your children ignore you? Do you get enraged? If so, it may be that feelings from your own childhood are getting activated--perhaps around not feeling heard or respected when you were a little one. Be careful that you don't confuse present-day parenting challenges with unfinished emotions from the past that are better sorted out with a friend or therapist.

• Economize with your words. Children often tune out their parents because they go on....and on and on. Speak clearly and briefly. The fewer words you use, the bigger the impact.

"It's eight o'clock. PJ time!"
"Toys need to get cleaned up. Dinner's ready."

Try these tips and your children's' hearing may show signs of real improvement!

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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