One of the most common requests I get from readers is how to make kids listen quickly in an unsafe situations. This could be your child running into a busy street and not knowing how to stop them. This could be your child pushing another child and catching it after someone is already hurt. Or maybe it involves seeing your child climb to an unsafe height, use a bike without a helmet, or attempt to touch a hot stove. Parents want know know how to teach listening so they can stop hovering around their kids.
Just this past week I took my son to a birthday party with a bouncy house. (Side note: I absolutely love birthday parties like this because the kids have a ball and they burn a ton of energy. It’s a parent and child win, if you ask me.)
But there is also something I didn’t realize about bouncy houses.
I stood outside the bouncy house chatting with another mom about being a tired mom and how we’ve been using essential oils for sleep in our home to get more rest and my decade old wardrobe and the dreams I have for a future family vacation. And then I noticed something strange about the bouncy house.
There was a little leg poking through the roof down into the bouncy area. And when I took a closer look, I realized it was my child on the roof of the bouncy house.
Immediately my fight-or-flight mode kicked in and I shouted “Get down right now!” I may have jumped the gun. He wasn’t in imminent danger. I caught myself for a second as I saw him working to get back down, but adrenaline was pumping and my panicked words couldn’t help but escape my mouth. “Son! Get down! You are too high.”
You might be wondering what’s so wrong about that?
How to teach listening.
Both yelling and panic do work, but they don’t yield the long-term listening results you truly want from your kids. Over time your kids may start to laugh at you or yell back or dig their heels in and intentionally disobey each passing instruction.
A perfect example of this would be a child running into a busy parking lot. His mom yells stop, but instead of turning around and returning to her, he runs further and faster in the other direction. This is where you start to get frustrated as a parent. You have to yell more and more in order to get your kids to respond. And quite frankly, it doesn’t work all that well over time.
Yelling, panic and bringing out the angry mom puts kids on the defensive. It closes them off to the instructions and lessons you are trying to share with them. This is not something that is easily avoided in parenting, and you have to work at it. I have plenty of work to do in this area myself. But there is one thing I know for sure.
Using the strategies listed below will help you learn how to teach listening in those high intensity parenting moments and get the results you truly want: a child who is able to make smart choices even when you aren’t around.
Share your observations before it happens.
Of course, you will never be able to fully anticipate every parenting scenario that happens with your kids. But many times, unsafe or difficult parenting situations happen more than once. An example of this would be an older brother who pushes his young brother, causing his head to hit the floor hard. They are again playing in the living room floor, and in your mind, you are anticipating what is about to happen.
You gut instinct might be to say something reactionary like, “Don’t you dare push your brother again.”
But here’s the kicker: that reactionary statement puts your child on the defensive and instigates resistance. In his mind he might be thinking, “She thinks I’m bad or naughty. Or she only wants my little brother to have all the toys.”
Instead, share your observations, “You are getting very close to your brother. Remember he is little and he falls down easily. If he falls it could hurt his head.”
By simply stating your observations, you are allowing your child the opportunity to make a better choice and the problem solving wheels will start turning without you putting him on the defensive.
In a busy parking lot this might sound like, “You are getting too far from mommy. You can walk closer to mom. Let’s hold hands.” You want to catch it before he starts to get too far away and involved in a chasing game.
Near a hot stove this might sound like, “The stove is very hot. Your hand is close and if you touch it, it could hurt your hand very badly. You can watch but keep your hands over here.”
If you yell, recover with a teachable moment.
You are going to yell at some point in parenting because you are human and that is okay. I still catch myself yelling even when I work hard not to raise my voice. This is normal. It happens.
But how you respond in the moments after you yell is really the core of how to teach listening. You don’t want to miss out on this teachable moment with your child.
First, apologize. This does not make you a permissive parent. This makes you human. You can say, “I’m sorry that I yelled at you. I’m sorry that I scared you. I was worried that you were about to get hurt and I reacted quickly.”
Then explain how your child can make a better choice next time or in the immediate future. In my own recent situation with the bouncy house, this went something like this, “I got so scared that you were going to fall and get hurt. I’m sorry that I yelled. You were really high up there. You love to climb and jump, but it isn’t safe up there. That part of the bouncy house isn’t meant for playing. You can stay down here and play in this area only.”
Don’t fix the problem, let your child discover a solution.
If often feels so much easier to swoop in and solve the problem for our kids. You have many more years of life experience than your child. But if we skip the crucial step of allowing our kids to solve the problem on their own, we are missing the final key step of how to teach listening.
A key way to encourage problem solving in kids is to share a few brief observations and then offer them a chance to come up with a reasonable solution.
“You were too far away from mommy in the parking lot. There must be something you can do.”
“Can you think of a better way?”
Then pause for a few moments to allow your child a chance to think of something. When you are first starting out with this, you may need to offer a few solutions to get your child started, such as, “You could play in this side area of the parking lot where there aren’t any cars and it is easy for mommy to see you.”
The more and more you use this technique, the more your child will get comfortable with thinking of alternatives. It takes time to build problem solving. Keep working at it and you will start to see those great listening skills start to build.
It’s hard not to react in unsafe situations.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever forget seeing my son’s let poke through the roof of a bouncy house. He loves to climb and jump, and when I think we’ve got this listening thing under control, he surprises me with a bouncy house plot twist.
Teaching yourself to respond rather than react as a parent takes as much practice as it does teaching kids to listen. But these are the moments we can all learn from. The moments where both the child and the parent make a mistake. The moments you can both recover from to embrace the teachable moment. The moments were you unlock your child’s great ability to understand, listen, and make smart choices now and in the future.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
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- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 20,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!
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