August 27, 2015

Taming Wild Spirits: 3 Ways to get Young Children to Listen to You.

girls kids playing in mud laugh friends

Sometimes it can be very challenging caring for young children, especially if you do it day in, day out.

They have this wonderful, wild free spirit that wants to do its own thing. As endearing at this is, it does not always work well for us when we need to get things done.

I allow a child’s free spirit to be wild and free as much as I can but there are times when they need reigning in. I have never been one to yell and those times I have resorted to yelling, I have always felt rotten afterwards. Instead I use a harsh, mean tone of voice, but that too makes us, me and the children, feel rotten. So I went on a mission to discover alternative ways to get young children to cooperate with me when it’s required and let them be crazy wild things the rest of the time.

Here are three tried and tested methods that will ensure young children respond favourably to your requests:

1. Playful pictures and imaginations.

Ever had one (a thousand!) of those times when you are in a rush to get something done, i.e. get the children ready for bed, into the car, finished up with meals and they just keep dawdling or goofing about? The more the adults push and nag the worse the situation often becomes—for everyone.

To deal with this effectively I now get playful and imaginative.

Instead of asking them to get dressed in the morning, I suggest they quickly put on their dinosaur explorer outfits so they are prepared for the adventures of the day. If they show the least bit of doubt, I call out “Quick, I can hear a velociraptor roaring, on with your suits.” It’s never failed to have them dressed in an extremely fast time.

To get the children into their coats and out of the house quickly I call out something like “Come on little mice, let’s get dressed and into the garden, there is a coyote coming and we don’t want to be his lunch” (if your child is very sensitive it might be best to adapt this, I have boys who love this kind of thing, you know your child best and can create the perfect scenario for them).

If I want the children to go upstairs and brush their teeth I whisper “Ssh, there is a sleeping lion under the stairs, we’ll have to creep very quietly to the bathroom.” Bless them, they creep quietly up the stairs and even brush their teeth in silence.

At the end of a busy day or the midst of a crazy one, sometimes the last thing us adults want to do is get playful. However, I encourage you to try it. It amazes me how easily I can capture the complete attention (and cooperation) of a young child when I get creative and imaginative. Acting like this can be lots of fun for the adult too and it has turned around many of my tired-grumpy-growly-mama moods.

2. Become a whisperer rather than a yeller.

Most of the time when children do something adults don’t like, I don’t believe they are intentionally being naughty. They are simply exploring the world and therefore learning about it. It’s essential that children are free to do this (safely of course). It helps if you make your home and environment child friendly so that you are not always saying no and taking things away.

There are times though that certain behaviour needs some firm guidance. During these times I have found that rather than yell at the child and cause them to shut down or become frightened, I approach them, place a gentle hand on their back, make eye contact, smile and then whisper “In our family, there is no hitting, ever,” or “Remember my love, we take good care of our things.”

I have noticed that my whispers are listened to and accepted so much more than shouting or harsh words and so although it takes continued practice and effort on my part, it’s so worth it.

3. Only use the word no when necessary.

If possible, use other words such as “Not this time,” “Let’s do this instead,” “I’ll write that on your birthday wish list.” Sometimes adults do need to use the word no and I have found that when I do, my children listen and I believe that is because they rarely hear it. They don’t challenge me when I say no, although they have in the past, but I have always stuck to my original decisions and so now they know that when I say no, I mean it. This mama doesn’t wobble (gah! the pressure to make a perfect decision every time I am asked for something!)

You might save yourself much time and energy by approaching young children in this way, I certainly have and besides, these techniques help create a calm environment and it helps to teach our young ones positive communication.


Author: Carole Hills

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Angga Agathakanaya/Pixoto

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Carole Hills