COOKIES, KIDS! COME GET 'EM WHILE THEY'RE HOT!
Can't you just see the stampede of kids that would follow this call? And wouldn't it feel good to get all those squeals of delights and efuse thank you's when you did make the call? But what about all those other times when what you are singing out does not seem to reach their ears--as if they are surrounded by an invisible force field that protects them from requests they would prefer not to process?
Let's try applying my 3 Steps to Effective Parenting--clarity, connection, and consistency--to see how you can get your kids to listen to you.
In this case, clarity has two aspects. The first is your own clarity about what is important to you. You are going to get much further with your kids if you are clear that you want your directions followed. If you request something from your kids, but you don't really expect them to do it--and it really isn't that high on your priority list-chances are, it just isn't going to happen. You might say with a long suffering sigh, I wish you kids would hang up your backpacks and coats when you came in the door. Your children are going to hear that request exactly as you stated it, as a wish--something they may grant or not grant. That gets us to the second aspect of clarity: how you say something. Short and sweet. When you really mean it, use simple phrases. Meeting the kids at the door with Backpacks! Coats! said in a bright, cheery tone will get through much more effectively. As a general rule of thumb, the younger the child, the fewer words you should use, and the more sing-songy your tone should be.
For the most part, kids really do want to be helpful. They like being part of a warm family unit that is running along smoothly. It is when they feel disconnected from you or are carrying stress and anxiety from some other part of their day, that they freeze up. They get stuck. Instead of going with the flow, they get fixated on something. It is a little like having a bad itch: You are so distracted by the itch, that until you scratch it, you can't focus on anything else. When your kids are in this state, they are not going to listen. To get their attention, you are first going to need to attend to them as people. Perhaps that means a hug right when they walk through the door or getting down to their eye level and making eye contact and telling them warmly I'm so glad to see you! With some kids, a hug is too much, but you can take their hands in yours and squeeze. Having established that connection and reassured them with your words, tone and body language that you are the safe home base, your reminder of Backpacks! Coats! will have them hanging things up before they move into the rest of the house. The reminder called from the other room when they are still carrying the emotional weight of their days, will almost certainly fall on deaf ears.
Kids have pretty good radars for when you really mean something and when you don't really mean it yet. The best example of this is when we announce to our kids it is time to go. Then we go back to our conversation or looking at our iPhone, neither of which communicate anything about going. A long time ago Garrison Keillor did a wonderful sketch called the Minnesota Good-Bye. Sung to a tune by Handel, it started out with something like It really is time for us to be going with a response of Oh no, you can't possibly leave without one more slice of pie. Well, maybe just one you say. And so on. In the song, it takes five minutes of pleasantries to get out the door. Any child worth his self respect will keep right on playing through all this polite leave taking. He knows he is not required until the adults are actually standing at an open door at the very least. So, when you make a request, it is your job to mean it--and to mean it right when the request is made. Certainly, you can give your kids a five minute warning, but when that five minute warning is up, your full attention needs to be on that child, seeing that she follows through on what you have asked. My suggestion is to do your own good-byes during that five minutes: Sweetie, you have five more minutes to do one last thing, while I say good-bye here. When that five minutes is up, you have to keep your promise and actually leave.
1. Only demand of your kids those things you are actually going to follow through on. Expressing a demand as a wish or vague option leaves things wide open for your child to choose. They may well hear you, but they do not register the request as something you are serious about.
2. Use simple, clear language. Even with 7th graders, I still get much further calling out "Line up, please!" firmly then "Okay, class. It is time to line up now, if you please." Some kids--often very brilliant ones--are slow processors. The more words you give them, the more there is to process.
3. Speak with energy and conviction. Your tone doesn't need to be strident, but it does need to mean business.
4. Check in with your kids on an emotional level first. Don't shout orders from another room (Do you like it when they yell at you from another room?). Go to them. Make eye contact. Smile. If they are absorbed in a book or glueing something in place, get in close so they feel your presence, but try to give them a moment to get to a better stopping point. If they continue to ignore you, you could give them a three minute warning (Darling, in 3-minutes I'm turning the machine off, so find a good stopping place before then) or you can put your hand on whatever it is they are doing. Calmly, firmly, gently, you ask for their attention.
5. Most importantly, you follow through by staying focused on them until what you ask for has happened. Let's go back to the kids coming in the door. You have hugs and love, you give the simple command clearly, and then you use your physical body to block their way out of the hall until backpacks and coats are hung up. You can point to the hooks as a gentle reminder.
If you are consistent with your behavior, your kids will listen to you pretty consistently. They won't spend any energy asking themselves does mom really mean it? Do I really have to respond now? They will know that they can rely on you to follow through until they follow through.
Give it a try. If you have your doubts or try it and are still struggling, set up a free 20-minute consult with me HERE. We will figure out what you might tweak to have cheerful, cooperative kids in no time.