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Why Listen?

“Pick up your shoes!”

“Clear the table!”

“You’ve left your coat on the couch.”

“Don’t leave a wet towel on your bedroom floor!”

Sound familiar? I sometimes feel like I am a repeating public announcement: “Keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle until it comes to a complete stop” . . . “No smoking in the terminal”.

I don’t want to be a nag, and I know kids can easily go “parent deaf” if much of our communication is just remind-remind-remind. I was thinking hard about this when it hit me—why should they listen?! Is there any benefit involved? Is there any good reason to tune in to a parent’s constant reminders? Or is it just mom going through the drill of repeating, reminding and nagging?

Having had this brilliant thought, it occurred to me to make it worth my daughter’s while to pick up the towel off her bedroom floor—or better yet, to motivate her not to ever throw it there in the first place. This was my biggest gripe and my constant nag, so—without any fanfare—I posted a note on the bathroom mirror: “$1 charge for a towel on the floor”.

Guess how many times she paid $1? Actually just once! Unfortunately, I had trained her to ignore me, to know that I would repeat it over a few more times before expecting action. So, she didn’t really believe that I meant what I posted. I saw the towel on her floor and playfully demanded payment with out-stretched hand: “Aha! I caught you! One dollar, please!”

Oh my, I was for real! Now there was a reason to listen. Now she was on guard! It became worth her while to regulate herself.

This didn’t make me feel very good. Oh, yes, I was thrilled to be able to stop reminding her, but I felt rather bad that I had allowed myself to become a negative background noise. The cure was just too easy. That was 3 months ago and it is still working. There have been no towels on her floor ever, even though the note is long gone. Why? Well, it finally became beneficial for her to change her behavior. I wish I could have realized that earlier, and saved my breath!

Next time you open your mouth to issue a command, to nag or remind, ask yourself, “why should they listen?” Once there is a reason that benefits them, they’ll hear quite well even if it is whispered just once, or posted without a word.

To your parenting success!

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