My child is not listening to me: Eliminate the distractions

Note: This article is meant to be read in conjunction with the article on re-positioning

How often does your child ignore you when you call their name or when you give them an instruction? This happens to a lot of parents, regardless of whether or not their child is typically developing. Almost always, this occurs when you are is trying to talk to a child who is distracted.

So how can you tell when you have your child’s attention or if they are distracted? The answer lies in their eyes. If a child is not looking at you, chances are, you don’t have their attention and if you are not as exciting as any competing distractions, anything you say will fall on deaf ears.

Before you talk to your child, first have a look at where they are looking to identify where their attention is at that point in time. Naturally, you would want to shift your child’s attention from what they are currently focussed on to you.

What next? The obvious thing to do now would be to remove or eliminate the distraction. While this statement may be obvious, we need to realise that any visual, auditory or tactile stimuli can be a distraction. This essentially means that anything and anyone in a child’s environment has the potential to be a distraction at any given point in time. What if you are in a shopping centre? What if your child is distracted by the clouds in the sky? The carpet on the floor?

Thankfully, removing or eliminating distractions does not need to be in the literal sense. In instances where it is impossible to remove the distraction, we can simply reposition ourselves or our child so they can no longer see, hear or feel whatever it is that is capturing their attention.

When this happens, you should find that your child will look at you and is now primed to listen to you; the perfect time to talk to them.

Example scenario:

It is dinner time and Lana is telling her daughter Jane to wash her hands. However, because Jane is engrossed in a book, she does not respond to her mother. After a minute, Lana again tells Jane to wash her hands. Again, Jane does not respond. At this point, Lana walks up to Jane and repeats the instruction a third time but with a raised voice. Despite this, Jane does not appear to register the instruction. She is too distracted looking at the pictures in the book.

Lana realises that she needs to try something different so she identifies what Jane is currently interested in and therefore distracted by; the book. In order to get Jane’s attention, she will need to remove the distraction. She has many options at this point.

Does she snatch the book off Jane and risk setting off a tantrum? Or can she reposition herself so that she is directly in front of Jane and block her view of the book? She could also let Jane finish looking at the current page but prevent her from flipping to the next page by placing a hand on the corner of the page.

Lana decides to try the third option as it is the one that will achieve the same result while minimising the chances of a tantrum occurring. She places three fingers right on the corner of the page while also talking about the pictures on the page. Jane now tries to turn the page but realises that she can’t because her mother is preventing her from doing so. Jane looks up at her mother as a request to turn the page.

Lana recognises that Jane is looking at her because she wants to continue the book but it is now dinner time so she tells Jane “First dinner, then book”. Jane makes her way towards the dinner table.

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