A couple weeks back I learnt an important parenting lesson. I was trying to get my son to put on his clothes and I was at my wits end because he would not listen. I tried sweet talk, promised a surprise, I even tried unsuccessfully to count till three but nothing worked. It seemed like a game to him and I could not control the anger in my voice at that moment - so I yelled a threat at him. Yes, I used the most horrible way to deal with my son at that moment. In the loudest voice possible I used the “you will listen to me now” statement. I think both of us were surprised at the extent to which the situation went and in return, I got exactly what I had given. My son yelled back in protest “NO”!
Kids have their ways of expressing themselves and as I look back to that day, it was certainly my biggest parenting fail but what struck me was that habits, well, both good and bad are something we actually pass on to our kids even when we think they aren’t looking. While we all want to be the best parents possible, moments like these are bound to happen and the important part of such experiences is to learn and make amends.
So what amends did I make? I can tell you that I really felt bad about my own behavior after that incident. But the damage had been done and my son soon began to respond to almost everyone with the same ‘raspy’ angry tone and he somehow felt that ‘NO’ was a great way to bring out the monster in me. It also became increasingly difficult to get him to listen to anything because even after repeating to him like a broken record, he would just pretend he did not hear me or just ignore my requests. I had to make a conscious effort to mind my tone and watch my words whenever a situation of conflict came up – and that was almost 10 times every day. That’s when I decided to put a stop to the behavior and after a lot of help from moms alike, I came up with a couple of ideas that have since then been slightly successful.
Here are four ways that have helped my son understand the importance of listening:
1. Speak Simple and Clearly: Whenever my son refused to listen, I was always talking too much and that seemed to add to the distraction. I put myself in his shoes and imagined how I would react in such situations and the answer was as clear as a bell. I would tune out and that is exactly what my son was doing. So instead of telling him to put his clothes on quickly, otherwise he will fall ill and that it’s really not good blah blah I made a simple statement: “Put your clothes on, please so we can read your story quickly.” The difference in his behavior was phenomenal on the very first day. It’s also good to get used to ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ as early as possible; your child is bound to imitate words that you use during those early days.
2. Reinforcements: If you thought No. 1 was easy well, in some situations it is but no two situations are alike so be prepared to use some other methods that are bound to make your child understand why exactly they should listen in a particular situation. Bath time is the best time and also the worst because my son hates to get out of his little tub and bid farewell to his toys. Someone suggested I get rid of the tub and the toys and while I ideally would love to, I felt reinforcement would work better in this scenario. So he gets a reminder that he has five minutes to splash and he also gets a visual reminder when I flick the light switch off and on to show him that his time is up. Babies are bound to learn when they ‘see’ and especially when we demonstrate why a particular request needs to be followed.
3. Prepare in advance: This is something I’ve learnt many times and especially when we’re at the park, out for a walk or generally some fun place that my kid does not want to leave. Initially, it was easier to bribe him away with a treat but as he began to understand, he refused to give in without a struggle. So instead of bribes and unnecessary power struggles, I use the opportunity and prepare him on what to expect. Initially he would get upset and refuse to listen in spite of the detailed preparation – especially at the park. However, as he got older it became easier for him to understand. Again, use simple statements “we need to leave the park before it gets dark”, and use reinforcements if necessary, “five minutes more”, “one last ride on the swing’, etc.
4. Appreciate Your Child: Most times we forget to appreciate when our child does something without us asking, or even listens the very first time. Simple, everyday tasks can go unnoticed and are a great opportunity to bring out a positive feeling in your child, if appreciated. My son hates brushing his teeth and he will scream murder whenever it's time to clean his teeth. I’ve tried everything possible to make it fun but one morning he surprised me by taking the toothbrush and brushing his teeth himself. It wasn’t much but I was so happy, I clapped like a child and praised him. That apparently was all he needed to motivate him to like the task. Appreciating does not guarantee that your child will always listen but it will certainly jog the memory and make them realise that listening will always bring positive feedback.
It’s never easy to predict a growing baby’s behavior but I firmly believe that they silently watch and model themselves according to those around them. The tips above are mostly about getting your child to model good habits and discipline as early as possible. We, as parents play the most important part as role-models in habits and behavior. The stress and worries of each day are present in every one of us and it takes just a moment to let down your guard – yell, shout, use words that are hurtful etc. Unless we try, or are faced with a similar situation, we’ll never understand the consequences. So make a conscious effort from today to model good behavior and habits in front of kids.
Thanks for taking the time to read my article and do share stories of how you’ve handled behavior with your kids. Would love to hear your experiences and do follow me for similar parenting stories.