First, your child is listening to everything you say, they are refusing to comply with what you are asking or saying. Second, children learn very quickly the context and tone of words and phrases being used, even if they don’t know the full meaning or an appropriate response.
Directing your child’s attention
Developing a method of gaining your child’s attention is very important. Ask the child to look at you and often repeat back what they are being asked to do. Use clear language about what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and when it should be done. Utilizing a chart that a child can use as a reminder gives them some independence should they forget, without the parent having to repeat themselves; use words or pictures to illustrate tasks.
Breaking down barriers
Children are constantly testing the world around them; where the limitations and barriers are, this includes your verbal cues and their responses. Children want to feel needed and helpful, which encourages cooperation and improves self-worth and esteem. Use vocabulary that emphasizes teamwork and cooperation, “Will you do the dishes because it would help me, this way we can both have free time” versus “Do the dishes because I said so.” Share and talk about what you will both do in your free time when finished with the task.
Create consequences and discuss them
Positive language will work, however, children will also test how you handle their resistance to positive reinforcement. They will look to place the blame when they receive a consequence because they haven’t cognitively developed the ability to fully understand cause and effect. Arguing and shouting will only reinforce the parent is the bad guy. Before you get upset or administer a consequence:
- Stay calm and sit the child down;
- Ask them to recall what happened;
- What you asked and what they didn’t do it’
- Ask them what should happen if they didn’t listen, they should already know;
- Ask them why they didn’t listen and repeat the consequence they will serve;
- Tell them you’re not mad, and it makes you sad to have to offer a consequence, but next time they need to do what they are asked so that the consequence is not applied.
Children don’t like the feeling of sadness and can empathize if you express your frustration in terms of emotional sadness.
Offer praise even when it is not expected
Pay attention to what your child does do. Offering praise during those moments will encourage behavior that can receive more praise. Receiving praise physically feels good through the release of positive endorphins; negative reprimand builds stress, anxiety, and creates a feedback loop of fear of consequence.
Most important, be consistent
Nothing is more important than consistency. Children notice patterns quickly and know when your being inconsistent. It may be difficult at first. The child should never feel that things are “not fair,” they know what being equal includes.
Be on the same page
Parents and or guardians must use the same words and language when asking the child to listen and complete a task. Children will find holes and discrepancies and make use of them to avoid listening and complying. Use specific information, “please pick up your toys by 7:00 pm,” maybe use a countdown timer. The more specific you can be, the less wiggle room they have when testing your boundaries. The path of childhood is all about exploring and figuring out the world; this includes who to listen to and what to do when asked to complete a task. What they learn from you is what they will apply to their external experiences including school and later employment.