Sometimes we do whatever it takes to get our children to listen and obey. If my daughter were on her way into the street, you bet I’m gonna yell. If we’re out past bedtime and just need to make it back home with minimal whining, you’ll probably hear me offer a bribe. All of us have those moments.
But what about the rest of the time?
How Can You Get Your Kids to Listen Without Tricks, Counting, or Bribery?
First Things First: Consistency
Consistency is the key to all the issues we’ll cover from here on out. Your kids want and need firmly set boundaries. Don’t believe me? One of my middle school students approached me at the end of last school year and said I was her favorite sub. When I asked her why she sheepishly admitted it was because I made them do their work! Kids, big ones and small ones, want to know where the line is. That knowledge makes them feel safe, secure and cared for. They like to know exactly what will happen when they cross a certain line. They like to know how you’ll react to any given scenario. And that’s really hard when you let one broken rule slide this time and then totally fly off the handle the next, for the same offense. The best parenting is responsive, not reactive.
Set Honest Expectations
You know yourself and your children better than anyone else, so only you and your partner can decide on the rules that are most important to you. The values you want to impart to your children can help guide you as you decide which behaviors are unacceptable and which are a little more flexible. For instance, many moms get pretty upset when their children make a mess by pulling bowls or utensils out of the cabinets. I’m not one of those moms; partly because I’ve come to terms with a messy life and partly because I want them to feel like this house is theirs as much as it is ours. So making a mess isn’t a punishable offense in my house. Getting a toy out of the closet without permission though, now that’s punishable in my house because we encourage our girls to appreciate what they have and pulling additional things from the closet without permission can lead to a sense of entitlement which I don’t want for them.
Maybe that example seems silly or harsh to you. That’s okay with me. We’re different moms and we have different goals for our children. I’m not here to tell you which rules to set. Only you can decide what’s worth the fight. If you, like me, only have a certain amount of emotional and mental energy each day, save it up and only use it on things that will matter in the long run. If you want to raise honest kids, then lying is going on your list. If you want to raise gentle kids, then you’ll probably include hitting, biting, and kicking. If generosity is encouraged, your list might include taking a toy from a sibling/friend or failing to help with household chores. Take some time with your spouse or partner and write down a list of the values you want to instill in your kids and the rules that go along with them.
Make the Consequence Fit the Crime
Whether you prefer to think of it as a consequence or a punishment, the thing that happens when your child steps out of line should be proportional to their rule breaking. It’s too easy to overreact when you’re parenting from a desperate or tired place. So do you and your children a favor. Pre-set consequences and stick to them! If Billy knows biting results in the loss of his tablet time, then when he bites, whether it’s a nibble or a chomp, he loses his tablet time. Done. He knew it would happen and you don’t have to think about how to handle the situation while you’re angry.
Lead By Example
That old idiom, “Monkey see, monkey do,” came from real life experience. Kids copy what they see every day. Any parent who’s ever had to break a kid from repeating a curse word knows this all too well. It doesn’t have to be only your bad habits they pick up on though. Modeling the behavior you want to see in them is the very best way to teach them how to act. The very best. And also the hardest.
if you want honest kids, you have to be honest with them and honest in front of them, especially in tough situations. If you want generous kids, let them see you giving your time and money. Invite them to be a part of it by volunteering together. The next generation NEEDS to be taught by example so badly. In our social media-driven culture it’s easy to tell people what to do. Every Instagram celeb and YouTube personality can tell you the best, coolest, newest, trendiest things. Our culture talks and talks. Our kids desperately need us to act. On the flip side, if they hear you harking at them for something like lying and then witness you lying in your day to day life, they’ll lose respect for you and your rules. You know, because you’d lose respect for someone you witnessed being hypocritical too. We have a bad habit of thinking our kids are different than we are. They’re not. They’re just as quick to sniff out hypocrites.
Tips for Getting Your Kids to Obey without Tricks, Counting, or Bribery
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s talk about some applicable things you can do to get your kids to listen and obey the first time you ask.
1. Don’t Ever Count. Ever.
I always tell my kids that delayed obedience isn’t obedience at all. If they don’t do as you ask when you ask, they receive the allocated consequence. In my home, we use a card system with their toys. If my daughter whines at me when I ask her to pick up her toys, she instantly loses a card. No warning, no second chances, no questions, and no bargaining. She knows the rule and the consequence. So when she ignores me and continues playing, I say “Okay, one card gone.” And wouldn’t you know it, she skips to and gets those toys picked up right away.
Kids who are used to getting a count-of-three know that you don’t really mean business until that last number. And they will squeeze ever tiny nano-second out of you. Not to mention how frustrated you feel when you have to count every single time you need them to do something. It’s bad for your mental health and happiness as Mama. So do yourself a major self-care favor and dole out that consequence straight away.
2. Show Them How First
Nothing makes me feel like a bad mom quite as much as getting upset and frustrated with a ‘disobedient’ child who I later realize just didn’t know how to do what I was asking her to do. This can be especially applicable for the second- or third-born kids. We forget that we spent time teaching our eldest kids how to do something as simple as picking up the cards and put them back in the box. But our second kids don’t learn those skills simply from being around their older siblings. Pause for a second and show them how to do it.
3. Feed Them
Seriously. You have no idea how many meltdowns and tantrums and yucky moments are caused by simple hunger around here. My husband and I have an unspoken rule that we don’t ask our youngest to do anything mildly strenuous unless she’s eating within the last two hours. Hanger is a real thing. Give your kids grace for it. Same goes for sleep and personal space. I talk a lot about self-care and this is your gentle mom-to-mom reminder that your kids need that same mental space.
4. Bribes Are Not For Normal Expectations
Bribes are for dentist appointments or long car rides or trips to Great Aunt Muriel’s. They’re certainly not for doing your homework or feeding the dog or putting your dishes in the sink. Those are normal everyday expectations for being part of a family. If you bribe them for feeding the dog, you’ve just set a new standard. Your kids start to think, “I’ll wait until she tells me and then I’ll get candy for it.” Um, no way, Jose!
5. Fill Their Love Tanks
Gary Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages of Children, writes “Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best.” Learn what your child’s love language is and how to speak it better so they may confidently rest in your unconditional love. It’s amazing to me how many kids act out in an effort to get attention. (I’m a teacher, remember…) They just want to be seen, to be heard, to know someone cares. A child with a full love tank is way more responsive to correction and higher expectations. That might look like taking a few minutes away from your phone to give your son undivided attention while he tells a story. Or reading and cuddling with your daughter before asking her to clean up her room. Maybe it looks like spending a Saturday with your teen doing something he likes. If your kid’s love tank hasn’t been an area of focus for a while, it might take some time to see the change. But I guarantee you there will be change.
Simple & Essential Self-Care Tips for Your Best Mom Life
It's time you take care of yourself just as well as you take care of your family. They need you to be at the top of your game. Learn how with these simple and effective self-care strategies.
What Would You Add?
What awesome advice did I miss? Share it in the comments. You’re a great mom. Don’t forget it!