At a recent family meeting, I had put an item on the agenda- listening to mom and dad so we don’t have to repeat ourselves. In the past week, I had noticed that I was having to say things many more items than usual and my husband and I had both raised our voice more often. So I brought this up in a problem solving format with all 4 of us- two kids, my husband, and myself. Everyone was given a chance to propose solutions- no matter how off the wall.
I expected the conversation about listening better to go one of two ways when the kids are allowed to make the call: either all about earning rewards, or about getting trouble. One extreme or the other. But I sat quietly and let my little ones (ages 7 and 4) have the floor and share what they thought would fix this issue we were having. Things started to go down the punishment lane- maybe we should lose allowance when we don’t listen- and I shut that down. I told them that allowance is not tied to their behavior and we wouldn’t be making changes to our allowance system. Then things got interesting. My FOUR year old shared that her pre-kindergarten teacher would say “1, 2, 3, eyes on me” and then the kids would listen to her. So my littlest suggested a change to MY behavior to fix the problem. So the 7 year jumps in and says “Remember how you used to do silly poses to get our attention? Maybe you can do that again.” Again – they wanted to change the PARENTS’ behavior, not their own. I was all in on this train of thought. I suggested I use things I used to do consistently when we were in full-on virtual school mode- clapping patterns, hand gestures, silly voices- to get their attention before asking them to do something. That way they are actually listening the first time and we won’t have to repeat ourselves. As a family, we agreed the solution to the problem of the kids not listening was to make a change to Mom & Dad’s behavior- we would do something to make sure we had their attention FIRST and then tell them whatever we needed them to hear.
This is not a new and noteworthy idea. But it is a good idea! I’ve even written about it before here: https://www.parentingwithaba.org/get-my-kids-to-listen-part-1/. Here’s an excerpt from that to help you (and me) remember: Get their attention first. We have to interrupt whatever is currently going on- and somehow win that battle for attention from something they prefer more than listening to mom giving instructions. I mean, what could be more fun than listening to mom giving instructions? Oh- everything? I see.
- Be silly. Interrupt with silliness. Make silly faces, silly poses, or use different voices. Get their attention AND a smile on their face before you even start to give instructions.
- Start with a joke, then give the instructions.
- Say something absurd. Instead of “Go wash your hands” try “Go wash your earlobes”. Let your kids correct you- now they have said the instructions themselves! “Oh silly me. Wash your hands, not your earlobes!”
By letting the kids help come up with this solution, they’ve been all in. If we do anything to get their attention first, they freeze and make big eyes and stare at us. It’s a little overboard with the dramatics, which I find hilarious and awesome. And when I forget, they will say “1, 2, 3, eyes on me” to me as a reminder. So far things are better in my house with no major reward system, no punishments or loss of allowance, no big drama. We just needed to talk through a problem and whose behavior needed a change? Not the kids. It was the parents’ behavior that was changed this time (and most of the time if we’re honest with ourselves here). What things to do you use to get your kids’ attention? What works for you?
Leanne Page, MEd, BCBA, is the author of Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity. As a Behavior Analyst and a mom of two little girls, she wanted to share behavior analysis with a population who could really use it- parents!
Leanne’s writing can be found in Parenting with Science and Parenting with ABA as well as a few other sites. She is a monthly contributor to bSci21.com, guest host for the Dr. Kim Live show, and has contributed to other websites as well.
Leanne has worked with children with disabilities for over 10 years. She earned both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Texas A&M University. She also completed ABA coursework through the University of North Texas before earning her BCBA certification in 2011. Leanne has worked as a special educator of both elementary and high school self-contained, inclusion, general education, and resource settings.
Leanne also has managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting.
Leanne is now located in Dallas, Texas and is available for: distance BCBA and BCaBA supervision, parent training, speaking opportunities, and consultation. She can be reached via Facebook or at Lpagebcba@gmail.com.