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Lisa Smith: The four steps to getting your kids to listen without yelling

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Lisa Smith, a parenting coach, speaker, best-selling author, and podcast host, we talk about the real reason kids don’t listen, and Lisa shares her 4-step system to get kids to listen and cooperate without threatening.

Lisa also explains how to understand what your child is actually capable of doing, which helps you have more empathy and understanding for your kids.

Tags: Lisa Smith

Also in this interview:

About Lisa Smith

Lisa Smith, The Peaceful Parent, transforms frustrated parents -- who regularly default to yelling, threatening, and punishing -- into peaceful leaders within their households.

She is a parent coach, speaker, author, and host of the weekly podcast, Real World Peaceful Parenting.

Lisa is an international best-selling author of “The Angry Parent: How to Find Peace in Your Parenting Through the Message of Anger.”

Her signature parenting program (Peaceful Parenting) helps parents stop the struggle, calm the chaos, and “create the connection.”

As a former dominant parent, Lisa knows the transformative power of Peaceful Parenting firsthand, and is committed to helping families worldwide.

You can find out more about Lisa at her website, The Peaceful Parent.

Lisa also offers a Peaceful Parenting coaching and parenting community called The Hive, which you can join here.

The real reason it feels like your child often isn’t listening to you

Step one of Lisa’s four step system is to get your child’s attention. Here Lisa shares why the first step is so critical.

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy that is working well for you or your clients, for getting kids to listen, or increasing the chances of them cooperating?

Lisa Smith: The best technique I know is really this four-step process that I’ve developed.

Step one is to make sure that you gain your kids’ attention before you make the request.

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.

Sue Meintjes: That’s so true. I work with moms, and I often see them speaking to their kids while they are far away, and it is obvious that their kids aren’t paying attention.

What to do after you have gained the attention of your child, to ensure they understand what you them to do

After getting your child’s attention, Lisa recommends you then make your request, confirm that they heard you, and then gain commitment from them.

Lisa Smith: The next step, step two, after you’ve gained their attention by saying their name and they’ve responded, is you make the request. “Can you go put your shoes on?”

And then step three is you confirm that they heard you. “What did I just say?” Sometimes they’ll say, “Uh, I have no idea. I wasn’t really paying attention.” You can say, “Great, let me say it again. While you are paying attention, please go put your shoes on.”

And then step four is you gain the commitment from them. “Can you do that?” And that creates a habit process for you that we’re going to go through every time that increases the probability of success.

And that also makes it clear what I’m asking you to do. And I’m confirming that I’ve heard you say you’re going to do it.

Sue Meintjes: I heard about this on one of your podcasts, and I’ve tried it with my kids. It is very effective.

How to use “Pattern Interrupters” to gain your children’s attention, no yelling required

Lisa shares several techniques that you can use to gain your child’s attention instead of yelling.

Lisa Smith: Yeah. Because what you’re doing, Sue, is when I say your name, I’m doing what’s called a pattern interrupter. I’m gaining your attention, and what most parents do is they’re using yelling as their pattern interrupter, right? So, I yell out, “Put your shoes on. Put your shoes on. Put your shoes on.”

Then I come in the living room and I’m like, “Sue, put your shoes on right now!” and you look up at me and you’re like, “Geez, mom, you don’t have to yell.” “Well, apparently I do because the only time you listen to me is when I yell.” But the truth is, the yelling was the pattern interrupter. And I listen to you when you interrupt my pattern.

And so, my suggestion to parents is just that they use a different pattern interrupter. Rather than yelling, use calling their name. Come out of the kitchen and into the living room and make the request rather than yelling. It makes sense when you hear it. Most people, I explain this to them, and they go, “Oh, yeah, I get it.”

But we get caught up in thinking our kids can multitask and as you and I both know, they can’t.

Sue Meintjes: I love the idea of pattern interrupters and having alternatives to yelling. Do you have any more examples of pattern interrupters?

How to leverage your child’s teacher to easily get your child’s attention without yelling

Lisa Smith: So, another one is look at whatever your child’s teacher is using. Pattern interrupters are very popular in schools and daycares. Because if you have 20 kids in your class, you can’t just call out, “Hey, line up for lunch.” You must get everybody’s attention before you make the request.

So, teachers will say, “1, 2, 3,” and the kids will say, “Eyes on me.” Or, another one many teachers use is crisscross. The teacher will say, “Crisscross,” and then the kids will say “Apple sauce.”

So, I always recommend, especially with little kids, finding out whatever your kid’s teacher is using, and then it’s a great idea to use that because your kid’s teacher is already conditioning them all day with that pattern interrupter. So that’s a good one.

Another one could be having a code word or a hand clapping or a nickname. You can whistle. When I was little, I remember dad would go out on the porch and have some kind of dog whistle and the kids would hear it and then they would come running home.

What is that? That’s a pattern interrupter. We’re all in the street playing kickball, and little Joey hears his dad have that specific whistle. He knows that means “I need to come home.” So, a whistle’s a good idea. Maybe an alarm on a phone.

Why children often seem like they are not listening

Lisa says that when your child seems to be ignoring you, it is often simply that they don’t register what you are saying, because they are not capable of concentrating on multiple things at once.

Lisa Smith: There are all kinds of different ways to gain your kids’ attention, but I think what’s also important to remember here is, because kids have underdeveloped brains, they are not scanning the universe waiting for your next command. We wish they were; we’d like them to, but developmentally that’s just not where they’re at.

So that is an unrealistic expectation. That I’m going to be in the kitchen, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, and I’m going to call out, “Get your shoes on.” And little Sue who’s reading a book in the living room, or watching TV, or watching her iPad, or staring out the window, is scanning the universe for my command, and that you’re going to hear me and go do exactly what I requested. It’s completely unrealistic.

Why it is critical that you understand what your child is actually capable of doing and understanding

According to Lisa, parents often expect their children to do things that they are not developmentally capable of doing – we often overestimate what they are capable of.

Sue Meintjes: It sounds like it is also about being realistic about what your child is capable of. Having realistic expectations and knowing what you can realistically expect from your child based on their brain development. Is that also important?

Lisa Smith: Completely important. You can’t expect something of me that I’m not capable of doing. Like, you know, I don’t run regularly because I have a bad knee. And if you said to me tomorrow morning, “Go out and run 26 miles of a marathon and I’ll give you a thousand dollars.” I don’t care how you incentivize me; I can’t go do it. I’m not trained. I’m not developmentally ready to run 26 miles.

So, I spend a lot of time talking to parents about “What are kids capable of, in terms of brain development,” and I really encourage parents not to ask more of their children than they’re developmentally capable of. I mean, we would never ask a newborn to tie their shoes. It’s silly to even say it.

Sue Meintjes: What are some of the roadblocks that you can run into when we follow this process? What are the difficulties that we can expect when using your four-step process?

Lisa Smith: Well, I think the other thing, Sue, is just accepting that most of this work honestly involves the parents, not the kids. We both know this. I think the other critical component here is dropping the expectation that your children are going to listen the first time, every time.

It’s just not how humans work. I mean, I don’t know anybody that listens to me the first time every time. Whether it’s my son, my husband, my best friend, people that work for me, the person at Starbucks. Adult to adult, we don’t go around expecting everyone to listen to us the first time, every time. And yet we have this expectation of our children, and it’s unrealistic.

Why it is never too late to get started on the path to peaceful parenting (and how to get started)

Lisa shares an important lesson, that it is never too late to improve your parenting and build a better relationship with your child.

Sue Meintjes: I had a look at your website, and your story is really inspiring. You talked about the “step-by-step path to calmer, more joyful parenting”, which I found very intriguing. Can you quickly share something about that?

Lisa Smith: Well, thank you. It is one of my missions in life to inspire parents and give them hope. I like to tell parents regularly, it’s never too late to get started on the path to peaceful parenting.

A misconception I run into a lot is, parents are told, or they read, or they’re under the impression, that there’s like a cutoff. You know, “if I don’t bring peaceful parenting tools into my family by the time my kid is 2, 3, 5, then it’s too late,” and that is not true.

It’s never too late to get on the path to peaceful parenting. I’ve worked with parents of adult children all the way down to newborns. It’s never too late, and you’re not broken. Nothing’s gone wrong. You just need some new tools.

I encourage every parent to realize that and find tools. There’s lots of resources out there. And take the time. If you want connection and cooperation with your kids, you want to move away from yelling, you want to enjoy parenting, go find tools that help you, and there’s plenty out there.

The first step to becoming a more peaceful parent

Sue Meintjes: That’s definitely something that we have been realizing through doing this book and talking to all the parenting experts. Just by becoming aware of these parenting approaches, these parenting tools, we’ve realized how much easier and fun parenting can be. There is always room for growth and improvement.

What would you say is the first step to peaceful parenting?

Lisa Smith: To have hope. To know that you’re not alone. I know that before I got on my path to peaceful parenting, I felt very alone. I felt like I was the only parent screwing up. I was the only parent yelling at my kid. I felt a lot of shame and guilt and when I went around and tried to ask other people in my circle, no one seemed to be struggling with the things I was struggling with. So that just intensified my shame and my guilt and gave me evidence that I was alone.

I work hard to build communities through my weekly podcast, through my membership, through working with parents, through working with other coaches like yourself. I work hard to get the word out that no matter what you’re doing, and no matter where you’re at, you are not alone.

And the first step is just to ask for help. Just have hope. Tell yourself “I’m not alone,” and go find some resources to prove that, so that you can get away from the guilt and shame. I always say guilt is the enemy of the effective parent. It’s hard to transform if you’re marinating in guilt.

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Identify one Pattern Interrupter you can use to get your child’s attention (besides yelling)
  • Practice Lisa’s four step system next time you want to get your child to do something: (1) Attention; (2) Request; (3) Confirm; (4) Commitment
  • Research what your child is actually capable of doing and understanding based on their current brain development (instead of assuming that they should be capable of more than they are)
  • Next time your child doesn’t listen to you, remember that no-one can listen the first time, every time
  • Find out more about Lisa at her website, The Peaceful Parent, or join her online Peaceful Parenting community, The Hive.

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here