Mellownest is run by Claire and Nneka local mums who are also mental health professionals and educational psychologists. They set up Mellownest to deliver workshops for parents who are interested in developing a positive, gentle style of parenting and want to get more out of their family life.
Each month, they respond to a Mumbler’s question about parenting. And this month is a topic we can all relate to ‘How to get children to LISTEN more!”
I’m hoping you can help me. I’m a busy mum of three, two boys aged 8 and 6 and a 3-year-old girl. I love being a mum but at the moment I am feeling really sick of everything. I’ve recently gone back to work part-time and feel like all I do is rush around trying to keep all the plates spinning. What I would really like some advice on is getting my children to LISTEN. I suppose it’s normal but it’s driving me insane that I have to repeat myself so many times before anyone does anything. I don’t expect the little one to do as well but why can’t my boys just do as I ask sometimes? I know that I’m under more pressure being back at work and I’m being a snappy, shouty no fun mum but there has to be something that can make it easier.
Hi Mumbler member,
I can understand your frustration – you have a lot on your plate! You are right in thinking that there are things you can do to get your kids to listen more but it might also be worth taking a look at the bigger picture and consider how you’re feeling too.
You’ve acknowledged that you’re stressed at the moment with all of your commitments and that that’s impacting on the way that you’re parenting. Having three children of different ages is a real challenge. The ability to meet all their needs while still meeting your own is the key to your dilemma.
Often when we start to feel burnt out and have noticed the impact on our behaviour it’s because the gap between how we want things to be and how they actually are has become too wide. When this happens, it can be hard to see a way forward and we can get stuck in a negative cycle.
First of all, give yourself some credit for everything you are managing! Dr Markham, a clinical psychologist and gentle parenting expert, recommends that parents learn what they can let go. She describes the season of parenting young children as a time in your life when other things may have to fall by the wayside.
Consider what you can do less of or ask for help with. In particular because you’ve gone back to work it’s likely that you’re feeling low on emotional resources. Ask yourself these questions:
Are there shortcuts you could take with meals?
Could you accept the house being a little less tidy?
Do you just need to say no more to external commitments and focus on your family in the short term?
The chances are that your kids are just behaving as kids do, but that because you’re feeling stressed you get pulled into a negative response of nagging and shouting. This, in turn, makes you and the kids feel more disconnected and they’re even less likely to listen.
Because at the heart of your issue is connection. When kids feel connected to us they’re more likely to listen, be better at compromising and generally be more co-operative.
How do we connect?
First of all, we take care of our own needs. Is it possible for you to get anything that feels like a break? I know how challenging this could be with three children and a job! It might be as simple as downloading some podcasts to listen to while you drive to work or investing in a meditation app on your phone and beginning to practise for a few minutes a day. Perhaps meeting a friend once a month on a Saturday morning. Without filling up your own emotional cup, any strategies for better listening from your children are likely to fall flat. It’s hard to emphasise how important it is for you to parent from a good place.
Next step is to stop thinking about everything that needs doing and have some fun! When we engage with our kids wholeheartedly even for just short periods of time we can see a remarkable change in their behaviour.
In an ideal world you’d even have a little 1-to-1 time with each child but that might feel like too much of a stretch at the moment. Take a few purposeful moments each day to slow down and engage by playing, listening, dancing and eating together. A great time to make sure that you’re really present is the bedtime routine, this is often an especially challenging time because we as parents feel tired and ready to relax but often the harder we try to rush it, the more our children resist!
Once you’ve done some of the hard work and focused on filling your own emotional cup and connecting more there are some strategies you can use to get your kids listening.
1) Don’t talk until you have their attention.
That might mean going closer and using touch to make sure that your kids are looking and listening before you speak. It might help to make a comment on what they’re doing before directly asking them to listen to you to make sure you have their full attention.
This works much better than a list of instructions yelled from the kitchen as you prepare dinner.
2) Keep it short and simple
Adults are prone to over-explaining or talking for longer than is necessary. Instead of talking about what you don’t want them to do (sentences that start with a ‘no’, a ‘don’t’ or a ‘stop’), either state what you see or what you want them to do in the shortest way possible.
Linked to the point above, another good idea can be to pare down your non-negotiables. Kids stop listening when every interaction is an order or barked command (after all, wouldn’t you?) Up the positive and playful interactions as much as you can and save their listening for when you really need it.
3) Think like a child
Using a more playful and fun style of interaction such as making tasks into a game often has more success as it taps into our child’s natural way of being. Children’s brains don’t work like adults’ do, and they aren’t able to plan ahead and organise tasks in the same way as us.
Being funny or silly will often get a much more positive response. Try talking to your children’s toys or getting them to correct you (“No mummy, pants don’t go on heads!”) to engage co-operation.
This is hard when we’re stressed and just want to get everything done but wouldn’t you rather it was more fun and less shouting – even if it takes the same amount of time?
4) Implement routines and be consistent
Often when we feel our kids aren’t listening this is exacerbated by the fact that we’re saying the same things over and over. Routines cancel this out – if kids know what happens at breakfast time, before school or a bedtime there is less need for repeated instruction. Doing things like making a visual schedule for your older boys for tasks that need to be done before school means that you can put the ball back in their court and ask them to check for themselves. This transfer of responsibility can be a weight off your shoulders but also helps to teach your children valuable self-management skills for the future.
Hopefully that’s given you a few ideas for how to get the situation back on track. It sounds like you know what’s going on, you’ve just become a little stuck in a rut because of your own feeling of overwhelm. Start with you and the rest will follow.
If you’d like to connect with other parents who want to parent in a more mindful and connected way you can join our private Facebook group; Mellownest Mindful Mothers for chat, resources and support.
After all parenting is the toughest gig going!
Claire and Nneka x
If you have a question for the Mellownest team or want their advice on understanding your child’s behaviour or emotions please email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question can be put forward for next month (all questions are anonymous).