Getting Your Preteen to Listen Up

Get him to pay attention - no yelling required

Getting Your Preteen to Listen UpIt’s 8:15 a.m. and your 10-year-old son has the TV on. “Please put on your clothes,” you yell over your shoulder. “It’s time for school.”

Five minutes later he’s still standing there, slack-jawed, watching TV — and the clothes sit in a pile. “Please put on your clothes. We have to leave in 10 minutes,” you say. No response. Twelve minutes later you’re yelling, he’s sticking his feet into his pants and glaring, and you’re thinking, “Why doesn’t he listen?”

Older kids ignore their parents for a whole host of reasons. They’re distracted. They’re testing our limits. Or, like the rest of us, they don’t take kindly to orders. So how do you get them to sit up and take notice at those moments when it’s important without raising your voice?

it’s them

Debra Bacon, a mom of two boys, 12 and 11, in Fort McMurray, Alta., says she’s simply amazed by their selective hearing. Regarding her 11-year-old, she says: “To check it, I’ll whisper from the other side of the room, “chocolate cake,’ and he immediately yells, “I’ll have a piece!’ Yet I could be standing right beside him and ask him to brush his teeth and I have to repeat it five or six times,” she says.

Not to worry, says Kathy Eugster, a child and family counsellor in Vancouver. Most of the time kids aren’t actually ignoring us because they want to see us lose it; it’s just part of the developmental stage they’re at. Preteens begin pulling away from their parents at this age. This is also the moment when kids become so industrious and busy, it takes a crowbar to pry their concentration away from those beaded necklaces they’re making or that last homework question. “Their attention is so engaged, it’s hard for them to break off,” she says.

it’s you

Normal or not, sometimes you still need to make yourself heard. Lisa Dungate, a parenting coach from Vancouver, recommends thinking about what you’re doing to contribute to the problem. If you’re asking your daughter to throw her clothes in the hamper — and then you go ahead and pick them up yourself — is it any wonder she’s tuning you out?

“If you find yourself saying, “I’m not going to say this again,’ then don’t. Be true to your word,” she says. Or maybe you’re parenting from the other room — in other words, asking your child to turn off the television without actually making eye contact.

Instead, says Dungate, stand close and say calmly, “I don’t think you’ve heard me. I’ve actually called your name three times and I’m now going to turn off the TV. I need your attention.”

it’s timing

This is also a good age to call a family meeting, once everyone has calmed down. Explain how it feels to be ignored — but don’t point fingers — then brainstorm ideas together about how to solve the problem. Maybe you’ll promise not to nag anymore if your daughter agrees to live with the consequences of not getting ready on time for school, such as a missed ride or experiencing her teacher’s wrath.

Whatever it is, everyone’s got to agree to it. If all else fails? Put yourself in your kids’ shoes. Nagging, put-downs and lecturing rarely work, but respectful communication can do the trick…if you stick with it.

“You can never go wrong with the Golden Rule,” says Dungate.

Kira Vermond is a Guelph, Ont.-based freelance writer who knows a thing or two about having to repeat herself again…and again.

talking points

  • Say less. Long-winded lectures get tuned out fast.
  • Be clear and specific. Don’t say, “Get ready for school.” Say, “Get your shoes on and pick up your backpack, please.”
  • Expect your kids to load the dishwasher? Sometimes we forget they don’t know how. Teach them.
  • Don’t threaten punishment you can’t carry out. “If you don’t get ready, we’re not going to Grandma’s!” you say. Come on. They know you don’t mean it.

Now that they’re listening, check out these 10 great activities to share.

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