Kids Don’t Listen? Stop Talking and Start Acting
Every parent has an action point. An action point is the point when you stop talking and start acting or the point when children know you mean business. How do they know? You give them cues, and your children know what those cues are. If you repeat the same request over and over again, how does your child know when you really mean it?
Think back on your own childhood. How did you know when your dad or mom meant business? Maybe they used your middle name or started moving toward the kitchen where that special utensil was kept. They might have gotten out of the chair or started moving toward you or given you that look. The point is, you knew.
Action Points Differ Among Adults
Dads have a different action point than moms. The teacher at school and the babysitter each have an action point and the way children respond is often determined by the cues those leaders give to kids.
Unfortunately, many parents use anger as the cue that tells their children it’s time to get moving. Although it may work in the short run, the harshness has negative side effects. An important skill in parenting is to communicate your action point without anger, as anger with kids may seem justified but is rarely wise.
You might be saying, “But my kids won’t obey unless I get angry.” And you’re probably right, but only because you’ve taught your children to wait until you’re angry before they have to respond. Your cue is anger and your kids know it. If you find that you’re relying on anger to motivate your children, then it’s time to make a change. What signals do you want to use to indicate that it’s time to clean up, or it’s time to go?
You might say, “Karyn, please turn off the TV now.” The child’s name and the word “now” can become the cues that the next thing you do is follow through and take action. Or you might preface what you’re going to say with the words, “Karyn, this is an instruction. Look at my eyes.”
Explain the Change You’re Going to Make
When you’re ready to make the change, talk with your children. Explain that you have been unwise in teaching them to wait until you get angry before they start obeying. From now on you are going to tell them once, then comes your action. If your child doesn’t respond to the new cues then move right to a Break or a consequence.
Be careful of multiple warnings or counting to three as they can weaken the instruction process. One warning may be helpful to make sure the child has understood the instruction but then the next step should be to follow through. If you tighten your action point you’ll get angry less often and your children will respond more quickly.
Many parents are afraid of becoming a sergeant, ordering their children around and expecting instant obedience, and though it is important to balance firmness with relationship, they become so relational that their instructions sound more like suggestions, ideas, or opinions. It is important to balance firmness with relationship. Or, they believe they have to talk their child into wanting to obey.
Many children in those homes, then, can’t seem to follow even the simplest instructions without a dialogue. If this pattern continues then these children tend to make poor employees, develop selfish attitudes about following someone else’s leadership, and have a difficult time in relationships because they haven’t learned how to sacrifice their own agenda for others.
Sometimes You Have to Stop the Dialog
Explaining reasons behind instructions can be valuable at times, but sometimes even we, as adults, must obey first and then understand later. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son without full understanding and then considered it faith when he obeyed. (Genesis 22:1-2)
Peter didn’t know why he was to go to Cornelius’ house but went anyway only to discover that God wanted to bring salvation to the Gentiles. (Acts 10) Philip was asked to leave a revival in Samaria and go out into the wilderness, not knowing why, but when he got there he led an Ethiopian man to Christ. (Acts 8:26-40)
Targeting Morning Times to Practice
A common problem parents experience is keeping kids moving in the mornings or morning routines. One mom recounted her new morning plan that she shared with her kids. “I’ve been doing a lot of yelling and nagging in the morning and I don’t want to do that anymore. So here’s the plan. We’re going to have checkpoints each morning. At 7:15 am you need to be down for breakfast, all dressed with shoes on, and your bed made. By 7:50 am you need to have completed your chores and have combed your hair. Those are the checkpoints.
“I’m doing this to help you manage yourselves each morning. You’re old enough to do that instead of relying on me to keep you going. You’ll feel better about the morning and this plan will reduce the tension we usually experience.
“To help you be motivated to meet these checkpoints, I want you to know that if you miss one checkpoint in a morning you’ll have to go to bed a half hour earlier that evening, since you must need more sleep in order to get up and get yourself ready.”
They ended the meeting positively as the children felt in control and eager to manage themselves the next morning. Mom’s plan took some extra effort and work to enforce and keep on track but in the end the morning routines went more smoothly. Her children were successful at getting ready and Mom didn’t have to nag or be harsh.
Mom replaced yelling and nagging with firmness. The checkpoints helped define her action point and the children understood the new guidelines.
Getting the Bigger Picture
Responding more quickly to parents has spiritual ramifications as well. It’s always best to respond to the whispers of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. But when we don’t listen, God may have to use other ways to get our attention. There’s no better time than now for children to learn this valuable lesson about life and build internal motivation.
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