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Why Your Kids Are Tuning You Out

Modern parenting can  make you nostalgic for the good old days.

You know, the days when kids went outside to play and basically didn’t see their mother for a solid eight hours (except when she made them a nutritious bologna sandwich on white bread, which they wolfed down before running back out the door).  “Parenting” was not a verb back then.

These days there’s so much parental steering and interfering. Parents are self-conscious in the way they interact with their children, often using psychological tones that they feel are beneficial to self-esteem.  The problem is these tones can lead to children tuning you out.

Just spend a few minutes in the mall or a supermarket and you’ll hear:

  • “That’s not your indoor voice, Hayden.” (Ugh.)
  • “Remember not to run ahead, Connor, OK?” (Oh, that’s effective.)
  • “It’s our special day. Mommy’s so happy to be with you.” (As the kid is disregarding the mother’s statement while he charges ahead.)
  • “Now, Molly, you know you shouldn’t use your whining voice.” (Your whining voice??)”
  • “Where are your listening ears, Emma?” (Huh??)

Or, as parents tell me how they’re planning to get things done in the house, their language reveals how things will actually go:

  • “Don’t you think it’s time we started our homework?” (No!!)
  • “Noah, isn’t it time that we go to bed?” (We??)
  • “It’s time for us to brush our teeth, Ava.” (What, our teeth??)

Children read these statements as conveying a lack of clarity or an ambivalence  leading to kids completely disregarding the parent. In some ways the deck is stacked with the level of command or statement being sent.  With these statements, it’s almost predetermined that the child will not comply.    Even children without complicating variables such as ADHD or language processing problems will ignore weak commands and tune them out.

The issue here is one of communication clarity and the manner and style in which the message is delivered. There should be a tone to the message that does not leave much room for negotiation or noncompliance.

Keep in mind that yelling is equally ineffective.  Yelling is the number one parenting strategy used, but it rarely leads to goal of compliance that you are seeking.

Communication clarity delivered with an eye to natural consequences is an alternative (A statement such as, “Gee, I’m sorry you chose not to get ready when I asked…now it’s too late for the birthday party,” delivered in measured, matter of fact tones can be very effective.)

The next time you ask your child to get ready, you can say, “Remember the last time, you missed the party because, you did not get dressed?  I suggest you start to get ready so it doesn’t happen again.”  No yelling, cajoling, or  badgering.

Using one of the examples above,  in matter of fact (no yelling) tones, state to Noah,  “In five minutes its time for bed. ”  When five minutes are up,  if Noah follows you, state “Wow, good for you.  You get a marble and story time.”  If Noah doesn’t, “gee, I’m sorry, but no marble tonight and you didn’t earn story time.  Maybe tomorrow night you will do better.”

Takeaway Point

Modern parenting is very nice and filled with theories on the best way to communicate with the child in the most psychologically soothing tones. Sometimes this leads to the child sensing that there is weakness at the top.  Check your message.  Look for clarity and natural consequences, both positive and negative.

(Adapted from “School Struggles,” by Dr. Richard Selznick, 2012, Sentient Publications.)

Richard Selznick, Ph.D.,  is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire, a blogging community created by Annie Jennings.