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My Third-Grader Won't Listen

By Debra Collins, Family therapist

Question:

I have a problem with my 8-year-old. I have to consistently repeat myself for him to do what I ask of him, whether it's getting in the shower, picking up his clothes, cleaning his room, turning off the TV, getting ready in the morning for school or getting ready for bed.

I've tried a lot of approaches. I've sat him down, talked to him face to face and asked him if he would rather wait for me to yell at him to do what I ask him. He'll say he doesn't want me to yell. I've gone as far as listing out the order of things that I need him to accomplish while we are driving home. I tell him, "We are going to go inside and the first thing I need you to do is take a shower, then after dinner, I need you to get a book so we can read.", just so there are no surprises and that I'm not repeating myself a million times.

I've stopped yelling and just started talking in a lower voice. At times I just turn off the TV to get his eyes off of it and if it's time for a shower and he doesn't get up to do it, I've changed channels to news or something else to get his attention. Sometimes I turn off the TV, and I find him turning it back on as soon as I turn my back.

How do I work with him on this problem?

Answer:

Here's the good news: You are open to changing how you approach communicating with your son. No one wants to yell or be yelled out, but parenting is frustrating and sometimes we resort to it even when we know it doesn't work.

Learning is a repetitive process, and it can be difficult to remain patient. You are on the right track by choosing to lower your voice, turning off the TV when you are talking to him (so that he's not distracted) and making clear what your expectations are.

You might want to slow things down a little. Listing everything in the car is a great way to prepare before you get home, but there may be too many tasks for him to remember, or he may not learn as well with verbal instructions.

Hold a family meeting to discuss what the various rules and roles are in the household. Have him make a chart for himself of what his duties are. This can be a visual reminder that he can refer to. Let him negotiate the order he may want to do things and the times. Letting him choose allows him to feel more respected and responsible, and takes you out of the position of constantly having to be the heavy.

We learn social skills and personal responsibility by feeling positive about ourselves and our accomplishments. The more he can be involved with the process, the more motivated he'll be to do this for himself, rather than what he's now learning to do -- tune you out or defy you.

For more help: try these classics: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish and any of the Positive Discipline books by Jane Nelsen et al.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.