August 3, 2016

Getting Children to Listen After Divorce


As local parents ourselves in the West Palm Beach area, we understand that parenting children is never easy. Problems of parenthood are compounded when you add the stress and emotional upset of a divorce or separation. Nevertheless, there are a number of steps that you can take to make sure that your children hear your instructions and will be more likely to follow them the first time you speak them to them. Those suggestions include:

  1. Avoid the word "…OK?" Adding OK at the conclusion of your directions or commands implies that you are asking a question. For example, saying to your children: "Let's get ready to go to bed, OK?" may tempt your child to think or to say "No thanks mom or dad, I've got something more important to do; like playing, coloring, watching TV, etc.… explanation". Even though you may be trying to lessen the impact of a negative command by using the word "OK," adding the word "OK" at the end of the sentence weakens its impact. Don't be afraid to communicate in a direct manner so that your child knows clearly that you're telling them, not asking them to do something;
  1. You make meaningless threats. Have you ever found yourself when you're aggravated with your child saying something like: "You'll never be allowed to watch television again, if you don't clean up your room right now!" or, "I'm throwing away your Xbox if you don't pick up your toys!"? or saying "I'll turn this car around right now if you don't stop fighting with your sister!" Your children are likely to recognize that you're not going to be able to follow through or are unlikely to follow through with your threat; 
  1. Don't give too many warnings. If you give too many warnings, your child will learn to call your bluff. Consequently, saying "this is really your last warning" or saying "if I tell you again one more time" trains your child not to listen to the first warning. Your child thinks, why should I jump right up and do what my parent is demanding if they're going to repeat it at least 5 or 6 more times. In fact, habitual repeated warnings trains your child not to listen to your first statement. Children will recognize warning signs. Like a poker player, every parent has a "give". A “give” is a clear sign to the recipient of the intention of the opposing card player. In this case, your give as a parent might be when you put your hands on your hips in frustration, or when you raise your voice, or when you shake your finger, or some other physical indication that you "really meant it". When your child observes your “give”, then he or she will move quickly to comply with your demand. So at all costs avoid repeated threats;
  1. Make the consequences for non-compliance clear. Statements with consequences sound something like: "If you don't pick up your toys, you won't be allowed to play with them this afternoon or tomorrow," or use positive reinforcement by stating: "After you're done cleaning your room, then you can go outside and play with Mary (your best friend who lives next door)." Statements with consequences or awards make it clear to the children the negative or positive reinforcement for your requested behavior.
    However, if you do provide consequences for non-performance, make sure that you follow through with the consequences. Negative consequences can teach your child to make better choices in the future. But if you struggle to follow through with your stated consequence or consistently do not follow through with your stated consequences, your child will not learn to listen and follow your instructions. Threatening to take away privileges from your older children (without actually doing so), giving in when your child begs for the early reinstatement of privileges, or giving consequences that don't really mean much to your child are not effective. Follow through with logical meaningful developmentally appropriate consequences that will serve as a lesson for better future behavior and potentially as later life lessons;
  2. Don't raise your voice. When your child does not listen, many parents raise their voices. However, yelling at your children is not likely to lead to any kind of positive action from them. Your child basically will learn to tune you out and will be looking for the physical "give" sign that you have reached the "end of your rope" or patience. Additionally, if you're yelling at your child all the time, it may erode the relationship with your child;

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  1. Avoid using the words "Can you…". Making statements such as "Can you please put on your raincoat?" invites a sarcastic response like: "Yes, I can put on my raincoat". Really, you did not ask your child to put on his raincoat; you only asked him if he could. At various phases in their development, children become very literal. Sometimes, they become sarcastic. And if they're like most pre-teens or teenagers, they are both literal and sarcastic. The disrespectful responses can lead to arguments and defiance if you're not careful. Avoid phrases like "would you please…" which implies that you're asking a polite question, rather than giving a clear command. Avoid the words: "I want you to…" Starting a command for a particular behavior with the words: "I want you to…" isn't' helpful. Kids do not need extra verbiage or words before your commands to them. They just need to know what they're supposed to do. Children understand that the reason you're telling him or her to put their dish in the sink, tie their shoes, put on a raincoat, put on sunscreen, is because you want them to do so. It is not proper for a child to believe that he or she only has to do certain things when you're around. You want him to put his or her dish in the sink or pick up their toys, not because mom or dad wants them to do so, but because that's the responsible thing to do; and
  1. Avoid the words "you'd better be…". I had a coach of my high school basketball team who used to say "you best…". As players, we knew when we heard that word; we had better listen up and give his next commands our complete attention. However, children do not think this way. Failure to do so would mean extra laps, push-ups, or other types of extra conditioning after practice. However, children today don't interpret these words the same way as I did when I was a high school athlete. It sounds more to them like a threat than a command.


Start using some of these suggestions in parenting your own children during your Florida separation or divorce, or after divorce, or if you're a single parent or even if you're happily married. You may find that children start listening to you better and start following your instructions so that you can avoid having to nag them repeatedly before they will follow your commands and instructions. Doing so will lessen some of the frustration that you're feeling and may, in fact, make your relationship with your child stronger.


In the event that you are involved in a complicated family law case or complicated parenting issue in a divorce case, you should consult with the attorneys at The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. Board certified Attorney Charles D. Jamieson can provide you a consultation which will assist you in making sure that you have a basic game plan for your case. Please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. online or call 561-478-0312 and schedule a consultation.

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