Do Children Listen?

Why don’t children listen? What parents usually means in raising that question is that a child doesn’t do what they tell him to do. Often, it refers to routines like, “get dressed, pick up your toys, come to the table, finish your lunch”. and more of the same. In another vein it might be, “stop hitting your brother, stop whining, or don’t take her toys.”

My husband would often express frustration about the children not listening. As an educator there were always students soliciting his advice while his own children seemed disinterested and paid no attention. Now I hear my son expressing the same frustration about his son.

It seems the real meaning of children not listening is that they don’t obey us. If they would just do as they are told, it would make life so much easier. As it is, everything turns into a conflict and a struggle. When it is ongoing, parents begin to feel that there must be some magic that can make it all stop. Or they worry something is wrong with a child who seems always to defy them.

A child was given an assignment in school to “write about the ways you follow the Golden Rule.” What follows is what the child wrote, errors in spelling and grammar included:
“I follow the Golden Rule because I treat people with the same respect I want to be treated with and I stand up for other people that aer yunger on the bus. I help people that have a problem. I am kind to others. I treat people nicely. I help people that need to be helped.”

Is this child’s self-description an accurate picture of her actual behavior? Not really. But it shows the kind of behavior to which she aspires. She has taken in certain ideas about the kind of person who would be valued. . . the kind of person she would like to be.

Parents often express amazement – and disbelief – about hearing of their children’s exemplary behavior at someone else’s home. Or when they find that a school report reflects no sign of troublesome behavior at home. This disparity is another example that children have taken in parental expectations of behavior. They demonstrate children’s ability to meet such expectations in other situations.

When children in this way show that they do have the capacity to behave in desired ways, it often is a source of irritation to their parents. If they “listen” to others, why don’t they listen to their parents? One reason is that behaving in certain ways, controlling impulses, giving up your own wishes in order to meet the requests of others, is still hard work for young children.

Another factor that is that when children dawdle, parents ongoing prompting and trying to move children along turns into nagging. When parents nag, children tune out and literally don’t listen.

Of course, there are other reasons why children may become defiant. Although difficult for parents, it is an important part of development that children begin to assert themselves. At times they develop a sense of their own identity by acting in opposition to their parents. Also, they may behave defiantly when parents seem to disregard their own emerging ideas and wishes which differ from what parents want.

My grandson, a young adult, appeared to disregard his father’s advice. Later, he explained to me that his father was, in fact, right – but not completely. In one way important to him, his own experience differed from his father’s.

Children do listen – at their own time and in their own way.