Make listening fun by offering kids a challenge

A positive way to promote listening

With more time at home during summer vacation, I’ve dusted off a strategy that a fabulous child psychologist shared. Not only does it keep me in a better headspace, it encourages my kids to comply and helps to make listening fun. The idea is to offer kids a challenge that aligns with your direction or goal.

Challenges are a great, positive, strategy to help young children comply with directions. They can be thought of as a race or game — an engaging way to help children follow directions. Let’s say it’s time to clean up. Even with advanced warnings, there is often push back when it’s clean up time. This is where a challenge can be incredibly useful. Some possible challenges for cleaning up might sound like:

  • Let’s see if we can get all of the toys cleaned up before the song ends
  • I challenge you to clean up all the toys by the time I count back from 20
  • Let’s see if we can all work together to beat the timer which is set for 1 minute

Other times I have found myself using challenges are:

  • putting shoes on
  • going upstairs
  • getting into the car
  • brushing teeth and getting pajamas on

Helpful for Transitions

Upon reflection, I realize I use this tool the most during transitions. Transitions are hard for lots of reasons. While I would love for my kids to want to joyfully end something desirable to go do something less desirable, it turns out this isn’t the case. When asked to clean up toys before going to bed, I’ve yet to hear them with respond with Great idea mom. I definitely want to stop playing and go to sleep. This is where a challenge can be the most helpful. It won’t always work, but used sparingly and strategically, it’s helped me stay calm and helped my kids comply with my directions.

Positive headspace

Further, it makes me sound and feel less negative. Instead of approaching my kids with a nagging voice expecting a battle that I don’t have the energy to fight, I feel lighter. Keeping myself in a healthier headspace I know motivates my kids as well. Who would want to comply with a nagging, negative, mom? Giving my kids a direction in a way that is fun helps all of us maintain a kinder and healthier headspace.

While this strategy is unlikely to work well with older kids, I think the same messaging can apply. Approaching kids with a fun, teamwork approach is likely to yield better results than a nagging one. Sure, we want kids to want to listen to us, but stopping something fun is hard. I rarely want to stop watching a great show to go work out the second the thought occurs to me. Helping kids by empowering them, offering help, and staying positive tends to go a long way with compliance.

Avoid sibling competition

A word of warning — don’t pin siblings against each other. In other words, don’t make it a challenge where siblings are competing to see who can do something faster or better. While it’s often tempting to light a fire under them but saying something like, Let’s see who can get in the car faster, this is not useful. It encourages siblings to compete with each other which inevitably means there is a “winner” and a “loser.” Instead, invite siblings to engage in challenges where they work together to beat a timer, song, or countdown.

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