At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent. But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?
First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.
Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters. This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.
But what if they are refusing to listen? That’s a different issue. They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you. This is resistance and defiance. (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )
Things to do when they stop listening
Use technology: texting and email.
Therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together, like even on the same room! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves or using angry tones of voice.
Word of caution
Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending!
“The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”
Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language, no glaring
Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.
Use a third-party
Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.
Draw a picture, make a sign
Time outs for you.
Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget.
Watch your tone of voice
From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain. Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.
Is your child bullying you with their behavior?
I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.
About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.
It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”
Good luck out there,
Please share your comments. They help other parents who read this article.