Parental Survival Skills: Getting Your Children and Teens to Listen and Obey

There are no easy answers when it comes to deciding how to communicate or deal with with your children in a manner that will get them to change problem behavior. The best way is to start with a simple goal like getting them to listen to you and respond in a positive way. Easier said than done? Maybe, but let me show you some proven and effective ways to get your point across and change your children's bad behavior patterns without having to bang your head against the wall.

Plan to succeed by deciding what it is you want to communicate to your children, what discipline methods will work best with them and how you can help them to avoid problem behavior in the first place. Start by keeping your communications with them simple. Don't lecture or tell them what happened when you were a kid. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Keep your sentences short, speak clearly and always remain calm.

Children learn from their parents. If you yell and fly off the handle, so will they. If you hit and beat them (which you should never do), they will learn that violence is a way to try and get people to do what you want them to do. If you warn them not to do something and offer a punishment if they do not obey, make sure that you follow through. Otherwise, your kids will learn that all your threats are empty ones and just keep doing what you do not want them to do.

Do you constantly criticize and never praise your children? Criticism has its place as long as it is carefully worded and constructive. Let's use a messy room situation as an example. If you tell your child, "You are the biggest slob I have ever met," what is that telling them? The answer is: nothing. No only have you insulted your kid, but they still have not actually received any instructions from you. Try this instead: "Clean up your room today. If you do, you will have more room to play and space for your friends when they come over."

That tells a child that's there is something in it for them to clean up. When your child cleans things up or does a chore on time, offer some unexpected praise by thanking them for doing so. If they do not follow your directions to clean the room after at least two warnings, lower the boom with a reasonable punishment. Ground them, give them time-out, refuse to allow their friends to play with them or do all three until their room is cleaned up to your satisfaction.

If you have house rules, make sure your child understands them. Too many parents continually shout out all kinds of demands at their children without telling them exactly what they would like their kids to do. If a child stays outside too long after dark would it be better to say, "Do you think you can stay out all night?" or "You know the rules: Be in before dark." The answer is obvious. Rules remove excuses and replace vague criticisms and insults.

One way to take the sting out of rules is by offering your child some choices. There are kids that would rather sweep the porch than do the dishes or clean the garage instead of taking out the garbage. By offering choices and letting your child decide, you remove yet another reason for them not to do their chores. If they fail to do them, take immediate action. Never put punishments or the assignment of punishment off for more than a short time. If you do, the child will probably not even recall what they did wrong by the time they are punished and will not learn from the punishment.

Children are not perfect and deserve a chance. The last thing you want is to be perceived as an unfair dictator. Most experts recommend that you give kids three chances to complete a task, do a chore or instantly change a negative behavior. If you want a child to stop banging a toy against the wall, ask them to stop. If they do not, tell them to stop. If that fails, take the toy away and give them a suitable punishment like time out or extra chores.

If you want your kids to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If your child wants to talk with you, give them the attention that they deserve. Turn off the TV, move away from the computer and stop text messaging. Listen to them and respond to what they say in an honest and concerned manner. Offer sound advice and do not placate kids by saying that they will feel better in the morning or tell them to get their minds off their troubles. If you do not help your kids with their problems, they will look elsewhere for answers and you do not want them doing that. Try to get to the heart of their problem and help them solve it.

Never use name-calling or labeling in your communications with your kids, Do not tell them they are stupid, dumb, lazy, crazy, act like a baby or make statements like, "You are just like your no-good Uncle Henry." You also do not want to go too far in the other direction by using politically correct psycho-babble responses like, "I see... That makes sense... I understand... Really... How about that...I feel your pain" and so on. Be kind, be fair, be honest and be yourself.

Children like reinforcement. Sometimes that want to talk to you about a very simply problem to see if you are willing to invest the time and effort required to help them solve it. For example: Your child says, "All my friends are away for the weekend and I have nothing to do." Ask them if they would like to do something with you. Perhaps you both could go to the park, visit the local library, see a movie, throw a baseball around or do something else you often do together. You can also suggest they go out and try to make some new friends in the neighborhood or visit a neighbor's child that they have not spoken to in a while.

You should never play Let's Make A Deal with your kids. If you do it once, they will expect it again. Do not compromise your authority or their safety. There are going to be plenty of times when you will have to stand your ground, especially with teens. Things like dating, wearing make-up, inappropriate physical relationships, staying out late at night, failing courses at school or driving a friends car without your permission (or perhaps even a driver's license) are good examples.

Teens have reached a stage of development that is preparing them for life on their own. This makes is difficult to keep them in line with house rules designed to rein in their desire to be completely independent before they are ready and to protect them from harm. Teens believe they will live forever and many think they know everything, so any arguments deigned to appeal to common sense or warn against the possible dire consequences of their actions will likely fail.

Teens want respect and freedom, but those things have to be earned. Let them no that. Make a short but comprehensive list of rules you need for them to follow. Each time they break a rule, there must be an instant consequence. Teens love to communicate, so taking away phone or computer privileges for a reasonable period of time is a good start. If they stay out late, ground them. If they still try and go out or habitually break the rule about staying out late, take away their I.D. and place a pad lock on their closet so that they do not have instant access to clothes except for sweats or pajamas to wear around the house.

You have to protect your kids because they probably will place what they believe is having fun above protecting themselves. If you feel your kids might be experimenting with drugs, have them drug-tested during a scheduled doctor's office appointment. If they are using drugs, take immediate steps to stop that behavior. Keep them away from the drugs and the drugs away from them. This could mean no longer allowing them out of the house on their own. It might also mean placing them in a stricter educational environment (by changing schools or home schooling). Regular and unexpected drug tests should also be performed to be sure they are following the rules.

Inappropriate physical relationships are a huge problem among teens and always have been. Teens do not understand the long range and very serious consequences that can arise from what they consider to be just "fooling around." There are no easy ways to deal with these except to limit the times that teens have alone with their peers. Grounding and isolation from other kids has to be handled delicately to avoid making your teen a social outcast. This should be a last resort, not a first response if you suspect your teen is having that type of a physical relationship.

The most important consideration in any step you take must always be the health and safety of your child. Before you lower the boom with a complete grounding and total isolation, try to give your teen some wiggle room by allowing them out within strictly set parameters. Make it a rule that at no time are they to be alone with a known or perceived girl or boy friend. This rule should extend to the point that your teen is not allowed to be anywhere that might offer them the opportunity to be completely unsupervised by responsible adults.

Check up on your teen and make sure they check in with you on an hourly basis when they are out on their own. Make this a hard and fast rule that has instant consequences if broken. If you allow them to take charge of and run their own life, they will probably run it right into the ground. Remember, it's not only in your child's best interests to keep them out of trouble, it is in yours as well. There are many jurisdictions where parents are now held equally responsible for the actions of their children. Parents are being fined or even jailed when their adolescent or teen children get out of control and habitually break the law.

There are no shortcuts to good parenting. You have to be positive, decisive, proactive and responsible when it comes to your children. You must be a good listener, constant companion, fair judge and always follow through with any reasonable punishment when children and teens refuse to behave, break the house rules or decide to test the limits of how often you will exert your authority.