Many parents and teachers comment to me that when they are speaking to children or teens, they don’t listen! Does this sound like you? After repeated attempts to get them to put away toys or books, shut off the Ipad, get their jacket or eat breakfast, adults admit that they get so frustrated that they begin to yell, bark orders and take offending items out of the children’s hands to get them to focus.
Yup. I get it. I’ve done it too! It can be so irritating and infuriating to be ignored. You deserve respect after all you do! But what if our children weren’t consciously ignoring us but actually were just not really hearing us?
When we yell from the top of the stairs or call out across a room, I call this “back-of-the-head parenting” or “back-of-the-head teaching.” Some kids can respond to it but many don’t tune in when only one sense is being used to get their attention—especially when it’s not a primary one.
Many children, particularly ones that have trouble in the area of focus or have ADHD, have many radio stations playing at once in their brains. And guess what? You’re often NOT the loudest one. In fact, when they are watching TV, digging in the dirt outside, or even sitting in class, they may have multiple stations going on in their heads that has gripped their attention over yours. That spider they are watching? Rock and Roll. You? Easy Listening. Or worse. Muzak. (No Offense.)
So when speaking to children, engage more than one sense. That means talking to them and engaging their eyes and their ears. That turns your station on a little louder.
Of course, for many children—this is still not enough! I often use a three-sensory approach with my own kids. Crouching down, I look them in the eyes, use my voice to convey what I need them to know and rest my hands softly on their shoulders or arms to ensure full focus.
“Noah; we are leaving in 5 minutes. We need to be on time because your friend is waiting and it shows kindness to be on time. Could you please get your shoes and socks on and meet me at the car so we can leave? Thank you. This is going to be fun!”
You are now the loudest radio station! No yelling required.
Speaking of yelling, there may be a time or place for that—but when it’s overused, as one of my best friends, child psychiatrist, Dr. Dehra Harris, says, “it’s like using the emergency break over and over again. It may work…but at what cost to the overall health of the machine?” Every parent gets exasperated sometimes (yes, me included), so we have to find other ways to address our children so that we can get their attention without hijacking it with screaming each time.
Believe me, I wish my kids would just listen the first time when I called down to them from the top of the stairs. I do! Life doesn’t always work the way we wish it did. We don’t always have the kind of children we imagined we would before we had them in our lives! It’s okay.
Instead of making ourselves crazy, try using this multi-sensory approach. It works, it’s easy and you can do it now. While it takes extra effort and work (I know, annoying- who needs more work??? BUT…) I think you will see that there will be a lot less frustration and a lot more listening, understanding and peace in your home, school, camp or wherever you may be today.