What I love about the title of this post is how seemingly innocent the two phrases go hand-in-hand – asking if someone is listening to you, and then asking if they heard what you already said. However, there is something a little backwards about this all-too-common scenario.
First, if you have any concerns that a person isn’t listening to you, the underlying assumption is that they likely aren’t listening to you. How do you know this?
Maybe they didn’t verbally respond after the first comment stated or question asked
Maybe they didn’t verbally respond to you following several comments stated or questions asked
Maybe you didn’t get any eye contact from the person
Maybe their body is facing away from you
Maybe they are engaged in something else and continue to remain engaged in that activity
Maybe, quite possibly, they are “responding”, but it isn’t quite appropriate for what you’ve said
Maybe their response is delayed by longer than you’d like
So why, then, do we continue to use words to get someone to pay attention to us? Because at some point and time, or maybe quite often, it works! That doesn’t mean you enjoy repeating yourself nor enjoy the possible frustration that comes from you or the other individual after repeated verbal instructions, warnings, or elevated tone that arise from saying things one too many times! Today we have a “recipe” to help you reduce how much repeating you need to do and increase how much listening happens!
First, reduce how many verbal instructions you present across the day. It is fascinating how well those of us adults can get up in the morning and get ourselves ready without anyone reminding us “Ok time to wake up!”, “Pick out your clothes”, “Get dressed”, “Pack your lunch”, “Make your coffee”, “Get the kids up”, “Feed the children”, “Make sure you take Luis to the bathroom”, “Change the kiddos’ clothes”, etc. That may seem like a long list, but with so many frequent reminders, it can be no surprise if children start to tune out adults, especially during routine parts of their day! How do we tune them back in? Silent support!
Silent support is all of the body language or silent indication we use throughout the day to suggest what we want to happen. When you order a cup of coffee from a coffee shop, the barista typically calls your name and puts your cup on a specific part of the counter which indicates “pick up”. Sometimes they will say, “We will call your name and you can pick up your drink at the left end of the counter.” Other times, they simply say, “Your drink will be ready shortly.”
By using similar cues across the day during times where your child may not always do what you ask but knows the expectation, support them instead with these silent cues! For example, if your child forgets to use soap when washing his/her hands, you can pick up the pump and hold it over the sink, or simply place your hand on top of it to indicate that the next step is soap! If your child needs to take off their shoes before coming into the house, when you take yours off, you can point to his/her shoes, too. If your child doesn’t understand your expectation with a certain cue, this is an indication you may need to teach them what you expect by initially helping him/her do something all the way and slowly reducing how much silent support you provide.
Last but not least, you should refrain from using words as instructions if you yourself are distracted or if your “switch” is dim or off. Instead, figure out how you can support your “switch” to come back on first so you can ensure you can support your child to follow through with the instruction! Sometimes there is wiggle room for you to ensure your child follows the instruction, sometimes there isn’t. If there is some flexibility, and if you choose to verbally instruct your child, make sure you are able to follow through with that instruction in some way or another, at some point in time. If you are on a time crunch, this isn’t a time where you should focus on using the words you really need them to listen to. Instead, use silent support to get things to happen even if you know they are able to do the task by themselves.
By reducing routine verbal instructions, using silent support, and ensuring your “switch” is on before even giving an instruction, you have a nice recipe for supporting your child to listen the first time! Now that you have these tips, I challenge you to put this into action! Like anyone learning to cook a new recipe, sometimes it takes a time or two of making the recipe before it turns out the way you hoped. The same goes with making some changes in your behavior to support your child to be a better listener. By making these gradual changes to support your child to be a better listener, you are already on your way!
Anna Milligan, MS
Jamie Waldvogel, MS, BCBA
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.