Jessica Martin-Weber has tried several ways to get her children to listen.
The Portland, Ore., blogger and mother of six children recently posted a photo on Facebook showing her technique, adding it was a “breakthrough” for the family.
“I like to think I’m a chill parent but I have plenty of moments when that is not the case. Certain behaviours are more triggering for me than others,” she wrote on the social media site. “One such behaviour that requires deep breathing exercises on my part is interrupting. Particularly frequent and persistent interrupting. Which can happen easily with young children and in a large family.”
The technique involves teaching children how to wait their turn when having a conversation by using touch. “We have taught our children to demonstrate when they have something to share by gently laying a hand on our arm if we are speaking or listening to someone else at that moment. So they know we’re aware they want to say something, we physically respond in some way such as putting our hand over their hand or gently touching their back or holding their hand,” the post continued.
The teaching process
“We tried asking them to wait for a break in the conversation, to say excuse me/pardon, and say our name once and wait. None of those consistently worked with our young children,” Martin-Weber told Global News in an e-mail.
“We find it takes some children more time than others not only because of age and stage of development but also their personality can influence how well they remember to employ touch response.”
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Martin-Weber says she decided to share her method with the parenting community after her youngest child picked up the technique — something that took some time.
“We’ve been doing it so long it is something I kind of take for granted and had thought it was a common parenting tool, I didn’t realize it would be so new to so many.”
Martin-Weber adds this method, in particular, pays attention to volume. “The child doesn’t feel they need to raise their voice to be recognized and heard. This reduces stress and parental/care giver frustration.”
But every child is different
But it doesn’t mean it works for every child and when around others, people may be taken off guard when they see her children touching arms.
“We have company visiting and we’ve had to explain what our younger children were doing when they would gently touch their arm. We are big on bodily autonomy in our family as well so we have to try to find a balance in having consent to touch someone and using this practice for interruption. That’s something we’re always working on.”
You must have patience
Dr. Jillian Roberts, child psychologist and associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria, says the best way for parents to teach children how to listen is to be good listening models themselves.
“When your child is trying to tell you something, put down your device, look them in the eye, and listen carefully,” she tells Global News. “You can show your child that you heard them by reflecting or repeating a little back of what they said to you.”
She adds if siblings are talking over each other, this is also a good time to enforce how important listening is. “Meal times and time driving in the car are good opportunities to teaching good listening skills. Parents can encourage everyone to share something from their day. When someone is talking the rest of the family needs to be quiet and listen.”
And lastly, make sure there is room for positive reinforcement.
“If a parent notices a child listening carefully, then be sure to praise your child for their good listening. Remember, positive reinforcement is most helpful when it comes quickly and is specific.”