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When Kids Don't Listen

Do you have those days when your kids seem indifferent to you? No matter what you say or how you say it, it feels like it falls on deaf ears. It's frustrating and annoying and pretty hard to tolerate, so what do you do?
09/27/2016 03:07pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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Do you have those days when your kids seem indifferent to you? No matter what you say or how you say it, it feels like it falls on deaf ears. It's frustrating and annoying and pretty hard to tolerate, so what do you do? How do you understand it without having your own temper tantrum or falling into a state of self-doubt or worse, some level of despair?

How Do You Understand Why Kids Don't Listen?

1.Kids Live in Their Own Emotional Worlds

The first step when kids don't listen is to try to understand them before faulting yourself. It may have absolutely nothing to do with what you are saying or asking. Kids live in their own emotional worlds that may supersede what you say in the moment. Maybe your child just came home from a bad day at school where the teacher yelled at him for talking out of turn. Maybe your teenager's boyfriend just broke up with her and she can't tolerate being asked to do even the simplest chore.

2.Kids Need to Settle In After a Full Day of School

Maybe nothing big has happened to your child at all, but the daily routine of homework and keeping up with friends is all they want to manage at the moment. Even your cheerful, "Hey. How was your day?" is met with "Whatever" because they aren't up for talking yet. Kids need to settle in after a day of school just like we do after a day's work.

3.It Doesn't Mean You've Done Anything Wrong

Let's face it. Kids are self-centered a lot of the time. It doesn't mean they don't love us or like us or mean to frustrate us. They are just being their young focused-on-me selves.

How Do You Connect with Your Kids When They Seem Distant?

1.Reaching Out with Empathy

So, if today's the day when no one wants to hear what you have to say, maybe we have to do the parent thing and reach out to connect with our hard-to-reach kids. After giving them time to settle in after school, we might want to respond to their seeming indifference with some opening remarks:

How are things? Anything the matter?
What's up? Something on your mind?
You look kind of annoyed. Anything I can do?

These openers may lead to more shrugs, but you have made a dent in the silence. Maybe later, your child will feel more comfortable telling you if something is bothering him or maybe, he'll just feel your warmth and become more receptive in general.When Should Parents Say How They Feel?

2.It's Okay to Say How You Feel

If you've discovered that your child or teen was just in his or her own world and nothing much is happening, it's okay to share how you feel being ignored. Depending on the age of the child, it's rewarding to have your child learn to empathize with you. Some kids do this readily, others need to learn. But it's important that kids know parents have feelings, too, that they need to look out for.

3.Your Child's Stage of Development

Each parent has his or her own style of sharing feelings with their child, but it helps to start when they are young. By age four, children are capable of beginning to empathize with others. By eight or ten, empathy should be part of their social skills. As teens, this is essential to their development of long lasting friendships.

4.What to Say

Simply telling your child that you feel hurt when no one listens to you opens the door to an important conversation that reminds your child that you count. It's usually quite remarkable how caring children are when they have empathic parents. When you give empathy, it comes back to you and feels really great.

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Laurie Hollman is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are found.