Last updated on Feb 1st, 2021 at 12:29 pm

If you’re pulling out your hair because your child isn’t hearing you, maybe it’s time for a change of tactics. Our expert explains how to get your child to listen – the first time!

‘I’m going to count to 3.’

Ditch: ‘I’m warning you, if you don’t… I will.’

Why: Unless you’re actually going to do it then don’t say it, advises educational psychologist Ashley Jay. “Your child will see through this immediately and capitalise on it. Counting, however, gives kids adequate time to act differently and also lets them know that you mean what you say. It’s a very good option that works for most kids when you’ve asked them something multiple times. But there is a catch – you need to have an outcome after you’ve reached ‘3’. You can’t just rely on the counting and not have backup to follow through on otherwise it will seem like an empty threat.”

‘You have 2 choices…’

Ditch: ‘You’re going to be punished!’

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Why: Punishing kids outright just doesn’t work, says Ashley. “Giving kids an option to choose between a positive outcome and a negative outcome means they need to accept the consequences. When they feel they have some autonomy in decisions that involve them they are more likely to comply. They’re also more likely to make the right decisions with their behaviour when actually given the opportunity to stop and think about their behaviour and given an opportunity to decide. But once again, following through on either the positive or negative consequence must happen – praising for choosing correctly or reminding them when they make the wrong choice that hopefully they will make the right choice next time.”

ALSO SEE: Child discipline methods – does punishment work?

‘We’re leaving in 10 minutes.’

Ditch: ‘We’re going NOW!’

Why: Whether it’s time to bath or go to bed, time to go home after a play date, or time to leave for school, announcing that you’re on your way or that it’s over often leads to crying, defiance or tantrums. Giving fair warning before taking action signals that you respect their time and what they’re doing, explains Ashley. “It also gives them enough time to consolidate what they’ve been doing or playing with and allows them to have a sense of closure over their activity or social engagement.”

‘Please stop yelling – I really want to hear what you say, not what you shout.’ 

Ditch: ‘I can’t stand your screaming!’ (you scream back at them).

Why: All you’re doing if you match your child’s intensity is displaying behaviour that you don’t want them to follow, says Ashley, so rather make a point of modelling self-regulation and talking quietly but firmly.

ALSO SEE: Why you shouldn’t use shouting as a form of discipline

‘Wow, you listened so well when I asked you to clean up.’

Ditch: ‘It’s about time you did something I asked you to do.’

Why: Constantly being criticised for doing something wrong becomes old and erodes self esteem, says Ashley. That’s why so many kids simply tune out. “Everyone needs affirmation and validation that what they are doing is good – no matter how small it is. This shows that you notice when they are behaving in a positive way and don’t just chastise them when they aren’t. Giving positive reinforcement when your kids actually DO listen to you often facilitates more positive behaviour.”

More about the expert:

Ashley Jay is an educational psychologist in private practice in Johannesburg. She also consults as a psychologist at King David Minnie Behrson Pre-Primary and has appeared on TV and radio for her expertise in her field. Learn more about Ashley Jay here.