Kids Not Listening? FOUR Reasons Why!

Posted on February 12, 2018

There are tons of things we all say to our kids that keep us connected and help nurture them. Phrases like “believe in yourself,” “you can do anything,” or “ I’m so proud of you.”

Our children are being raised in a world where positivity is in the air they breathe! Through positive psychology, affirmations, and positive thinking, our kids are being brought up to understand how the mind and manifestations work. What we think repeatedly is what shows up.

Very much aligned with thinking and manifestation are the words that we use. Yet the correlation is not simple. Often people wonder why they are thinking or talking positively yet not getting the results that they were hoping for. This certainly applies to parenting.

We may think positively about wanting a great relationship with our kids and speak to them with kindness and respect but not get the results we expected. For example, how many times have you said something nicely to your kids like, “Don’t touch the TV with your dirty hands, my love,” and gotten more dirty handprints on the TV screen? How many times do we say in our kindest voice, “Sweetheart, you need to brush your teeth. It’s bedtime,” only to have it fall on deaf ears, and produce total chaos before they tuck in for the night?

Well, here’s why. Certain words and phrases—even when spoken in a kind voice— trigger a negative emotion. So even though you are thinking positively and are using a positive tone of voice, the word choice creates a negative impression in your child’s mind. In other words, the message received by our children’s brains—triggered by certain words—is making a negative impression, and then the unwanted behavior follows.

Here are some examples of words we commonly use that lead us to disconnection instead of connection:

DON’T do this … We hear “don’t” and automatically get defensive. Our kids feel the same way. That’s not all: What if I asked you to close your eyes, listen carefully, and follow this command: Don’t think of a red fire truck! What are you going to think of? A red fire truck, right? This is how we are wired! The first impression in our brain of a “Don’t” command imprints an image of exactly what we don’t want. It becomes a two-step process then to think of a different color truck. Kids’ brains—especially those of our younger ones—are not wired to figure out what “to do” instantly. This comes as their brain develops. So tell them what to do instead of what not to do.

You NEED to… When we say “you need to do this,” it’s like hearing “you don’t have a choice. Humans—especially little ones—don’t like to be told that they don’t have an option. We resist authority or being forced. So, like the command “don’t,” this one falls on deaf ears as well!

You NEVER… This sends the message that something (not listening, for example)  is a repeated behavior,  and therefore “you are a problem for me,”  or “you have a problem.” That shames kids and makes them feel less than ourselves. We all know how we respond when we are shamed. We shut down. To get through to kids when they are shamed, we have to first get through the cloud of emotion caused by the words “you never.” So why use words that are not conducive to effective communication and connection?

You ALWAYS… This sends a similar message to the one above. It’s actually a phrase that frequently follows “you never.” (Think of “you never listen to me. You always do whatever you want.”). Needless to say, the emotions of shame and “I’m not good enough” guide our children’s reaction and behavior to this phrase. Deleting these words altogether from your vocabulary will really align what you say with your good intentions of connecting with your kids and will teach them to respond positively.

Imagine hearing these words every day! It is no surprise then that kids will react to them and not respond. It is our job to teach our kids about wrong behavior, but learning must be a positive experience, not a negative one. That means all the way from our thinking to our expressions—words, body language, and tone of voice.

Instead of the words above, why not say things like:

  • What if we did it this way?
  • How about something like this?
  • Why don’t we find another option?
  • Let’s think about that.

The next time you find yourself needing to change a behavior, think about the way you align your words to match your positive intentions and turn a challenging  situation into a positive learning experience for your kids. Keep in mind that this kind of verbal rewiring—for both parent and child—will need some practice. The results, however, will be well worth it.

If you have other suggestions of positive instructions for children or can relate an instance where you turned a negative behavior to a positive one by rewording your direction, do share that with us under comments here or on our Facebook page.