Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

Dinner Time Drama

Why getting your child's attention before asking for their cooperation is critical.

"You are bad! You are bad!"

My son was shouting at me, red in the face.

You see, I had just turned off the TV in the middle of his game. I know it was not a great thing to do, but I was just tired of being ignored.

"Please turn off your game, and come get ready for dinner," I had called from the kitchen.

No response.

"Honey, it is time for dinner, turn off your game," I repeated.

No response.

I was already in a bad mood, so I lost my temper, walked over to the TV, and turned it off.

Not a great way to have a calm dinner...

But after dinner, when everyone had calmed down, I spoke to my son about the fight, apologized for turning off his TV in the middle of his game, and asked him why he ignored me.

"I didn't hear you," he told me. "I was playing my game."

This reminded me about something Lisa Smith told me when I interviewed her for our book How To Get Kids To Listen:

So often, we’re just making the request, we’re just calling it out, “Sue, put your shoes on.” And what we don’t realize is that kids are not multitaskers. They’re not scanning the universe for your command while they’re doing something else.

What happens to parents is that we’re often assuming. For example, because I’ve called out, “Sue, put your shoes on,” I’m assuming that you’ve heard me and that you’re going to do it. Meanwhile, you haven’t heard me. And this is where the conflict comes in.

And so, I love to remind parents that step one always has to be to gain the kid’s attention before making the request.

Lisa Smith

Kids often don't hear us. Even if they look like they must have heard us. Even if we are sure they must have heard us.

The truth is that they simply cannot focus on many things at once.

Then, when we feel like they are not listening, we lose our temper and resort to shouting or force (like turning off the TV) to get their attention. This works...but it also causes a lot more unnecessary conflict.

In the interview with Lisa, she shares several positive alternatives to yelling that you can use to get your child's attention.

She also shares her "four step process for getting kids to listen," which explains what to do after you have their attention, in order to maximize the chance that they will listen, without requiring your to yell or threaten.

Once you make this four step process a habit, and use it each time you make a request, it becomes much more likely that your children will listen and cooperate.