I was out of the room for only a second to grab his pajamas. As I closed his dresser drawer, I could hear him in the kitchen shouting, “I GOT IT.” Teaching kids to listen feels like summiting Everest some days. When I walked back into the kitchen, there was my boy stark naked standing on the counter holding a glass of water.
He has a deep appreciation for doing things independently. Climbing on the counter to get a glass from the cabinet, turning on the water, and grabbing a drink is his favorite adventure of the moment.
It’s hard not to laugh at the cuteness of a young boy standing on the counter, proud of his glass of water, naked and all.
Unfortunately, scaling the cabinets and standing on the counter isn’t something I really want him doing.
In these types of parenting moments (and so many others), you have options.
And one of your options involves not saying a word.
How to teach kids to listen without using words.
Did you know that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature? We know this from several studies led Dr. Mehrabian back in the 1960s and 1970s. The messages you send to your child rely on how you respond without using words.
All this is awesome news because you just landed about nine brand new parenting moves in your back pocket.
1. Thumbs up, thumbs down.
A thumbs up or thumbs down is handy when distance or noise makes it hard to talk. You might give your child a smile and a ‘thumbs up’ when he sits nice at the dinner table. If you see him standing on the table, you might shake your head or give a ‘thumbs down’.
2. Let your arms do the talking.
Give a pat on the couch cushion when you want your child to come to you and sit down. Point to the toys you want your child to pick up. Or give the good ‘ole Robert DeNiro “I’m watching you Focker” by pointing to fingers toward your eyes and then pointing them back to your child. This is my personal fave.
3. Get low.
Communication becomes incredibly effective when both people are on the same level. Squat down to the ground before gesturing or instructing. When kids are constantly looking up to listen to an adult, they tend to think more about their stiff neck rather than what you are saying.
4. Head positioning.
Think of a time when a friend was telling you a story and you were hanging on every word. Did your head ever cock to the side? Tilting the head sideways is a great way to show your child you are interested in what they are doing and saying, making them more inclined to cooperate.
5. Show your teeth.
Smiling and raising your eyebrows helps children feel happy and safe. When you smile, you communicate to your kids that you love them. You communicate, “I see what you are doing makes you happy.” Smiles work even better when you are looking into your child’s eyes. Then follow up with the behavior you want your child to do instead.
6. Mirror the behavior.
Performing the behavior you want your child to perform is key to gaining cooperation. For example, getting down on the floor, focusing on the mess and the toys that need picking up, can help get your child started.
7. Inch closer.
It is difficult to ignore someone when they are incredibly close to you. While adults prefer 2.5 – 4 feet of personal space proximity to close friends and family. Kids have much lower proxemics (aka personal space) and can benefit from parents and other trusted adults speaking relatively close in proximity (1-2 feet).
Teaching kids to listen starts with listening as a parent. When your child speaks to you and says things like…
“Mom, I didn’t do it.”
“He hit me.”
Or the infamous, “No!”
Go ahead and nod and smile and bust out a few “Mmm…hmmms.” This shows your child that you are actively listening. Your kids feel heard. They feel noticed. They feel validated. And when kids feel all those things, they demonstrate an increased propensity to listen.
9. Check your posture.
Are your arms crossed? Are your hands on your hips? Are you waiving your finger and shaking your head?
Try to connect, then correct.
I looked over to my son as he stood cheering on the counter. “I GOT IT. I GOT IT.”
I smiled slowly walking from across the room until our faces were inches apart.
He cheered again, “I GOT IT.”
“Mmm…hmmm,” I nodded, gesturing for him to get down off the counter.
“Let’s get down on the ground where it’s safer,” I said.
On days when I everything feels like a toddler power struggle or tantrum, and I turn into an angry mom, I’m grateful for these nine parenting moves sitting in my back pocket. Teaching kids to listen may not be so bad after all.
Grab your free printable checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help teach your child empathy! Another fabulous way to teach kids to listen!
Here is a sneak preview!
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- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!