Teaching children to listen the first time is a common parenting struggle every mom has faced. Learn how to get kids to listen with this one effective word.
My three-year-old was stalling over everything. He’d take forever to put each leg through his shorts. I’d have to wait longer than usual for him to get out of the van. Even finishing dinner was another way for him to not do something I asked him to do.
He knows he gets a reaction when he does this. Other times, he takes things personally and can’t seem to just let it go. And still other times, it’s difficult to convince him to do something. He won’t want to stop playing just to take a bath, or share a toy with his brothers.
And so he doesn’t listen.
But I found a secret trick that almost always works when he does this. This one magic word seems to change or sway his behavior, especially right when he stalls. The simple word?
(And any other version of “because,” like “so,” “that way” or “so that”)
Why this works with teaching children to listen
Seems so simple, but it can work wonders with kids. Why is it an effective way to get them to listen?
We bend toward reason
Psychologists found that we’re more likely to comply when we know a reason behind the request. Even if the reason seems obvious or isn’t anything different or unique.
And it works with kids, too.
I might tell my three-year-old it’s time to take a bath because it’s his turn. Or I’ll say he should focus on eating because he’ll have more time to play. And other times I’ll ask him to share because his brother doesn’t have any cars to play with.
You’re not “being mean”
In a world dominated by adults, kids can feel resentful with us telling them what to do all the time. Imagine following rules you don’t always understand, or doing things you don’t feel like doing. And it’s easy for kids to point to their parents and assume we’re abusing our power and role as their mom or dad.
But saying “because” (or any other “consequence” word) followed by a good reason takes the parent out of the equation. It focuses on the task that needs to be done. Suddenly, you’re not the “mean mom” who bosses her kids around. You’re just letting them know why they need to do what you asked them to do.
It can be the difference between “Put your water bottle in the tote bag” and “Put your water bottle in the tote bag so it doesn’t spill.” Now he understands there’s a point to this action.
Kids feel like a contributing member
With the reason front and center, kids take ownership of the task. We’re not bossing them around just because it seems like we can. Instead, saying “because” inspires them to contribute on their own.
They go from being told what to do to being an important family member who pitches in. After all, no one wants that water bottle to spill—it’s up to him to make sure it doesn’t.
Psst… Like what you’ve read so far? Download the 31 Days to Better Parenting worksheets, FREE!
How to use this trick effectively
As we all know, nothing with parenting is guaranteed. Too many factors come into play, from personalities to environment to an off day. Still, I found three tips that make using the word “because” especially effective.
#1: Give the reason right when you make the request
Giving the reason as soon as you make the initial request is most effective. It might work after your child has already stalled, but try to give the reason after the request so it doesn’t seem like you’re pleading or trying to coax him to do it.
#2: Say the reason matter-of-fact
You know how sometimes we say things to our kids in that bossy tone of voice? That puts them on the defensive immediately. No one likes confrontation or feeling inferior to someone else.
Instead, phrase both the request and the reason as matter-of-fact. It simply has to be done for this and that reason, not because we have a hidden agenda.
This tone of voice will further reinforce that the request—brushing teeth, putting toys away—has to be done for a good reason and not just “because I said so.”
#3: Phrase the reason as something your child can benefit from
Giving any reason is usually good enough. But to convince your child even more, phrase the reason as a benefit—something he can relate to or understand.
I might tell my three-year-old, “Let’s get out of the van because we can eat our snacks upstairs.” Now he has even more incentive to get out of the van when the reason is something he can enjoy.
The benefits don’t even have to be a direct result. You might tell your child to sleep early so she can be alert and strong the next day. Or to clean her toys so she can find them the next time she plays.
As much as “because” seems like a magic word, its real magic is promoting a better relationship with our kids.
Rather than barking orders, we treat them with respect. So much that we give the reason we ask them to do things. We include them in our decision-making process so they know the reason.
Yes, we’re more willing to comply if we hear a reason. But perhaps kids listen because it changes us. Giving a reason adjusts our tone of voice, our demeanor, and even our body language.
We go from impatient and irritable to “We’re on the same side.”
Now I know better than to just bark orders at my three-year-old, especially when I know he’s not in the mood. By giving a reason, I can get him to listen—and yes, to finally get out of the van.
Get more tips:
- One Unusual Way to Stop Kids Whining
- How Teaching Kids about Emotions Reduces Misbehavior
- One Technique to Finally Stop Yelling at Your Kids
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables
Tell me in the comments: Have you tried giving a reason when teaching children to listen?
Get your FREE workbook!
Struggling with putting parenting tips into practice? Get the 31 Days to Better Parenting Workbook, FREE! These worksheets will help you put principles into action, and you'll also get exclusive tips not found on the blog. Download now!