Not Listening

by Kelly

My 3rd grader is not listening. Or should I say he does not respond appropriately to a command. It varies between not doing what he is asked, arguing, or doing what he is told initially then return to the previous activity. We have had him tested for a learning disability and found that he is dyslexic. However, I find that I lose my patience very quickly as he just doesn't seem to "get it". I am finding myself lecturing him because I just think he is just being ambivalent.

So, my question is first of all how to determine whether it is behavior or could be a learning disability (since we did have him tested and nothing came up in the processing area, or any other area for that matter), and how do I handle it without continually reprimanding him? The funny thing is that I have worked in the special education field for over 15 years, but am at a loss as to how to deal with my son who is mainstream dealing with dyslexia?

Kristina's answer to Not Listening:

I think you're very right that your son's dyslexia won't affect his ability to hear, understand, process and complete commands you give him. My father is quite severely dyslexic, and my sister mildly dyslexic, but it didn't affect their abilities in other areas. Good for you for getting it all thoroughly checked out. Now, you know better what you're dealing with: A kid who understands your commands but who honestly doesn't see it as being worse for him NOT to follow your instructions (not listening) than TO follow your instructions.

Here's what I'd do first. Sit him down when he's in a good mood and feeling cooperative and have a positive talk with him about the way things are going to be from now on. I'm certain you've had versions of this discussion before, but today is going to be the changing point. He's going to follow your instructions from now on. Period. You could lay out the reasons why, the rewards for him if he follows your instructions, and the consequences if he doesn't, including not listening. You, as the parent, have to be 110% confident in yourself during this talk, and in the days that follow, so that your son sees how important it is.

I'll share a story you might be able to adapt or share with your son depending on his maturity level. A child I know at my school was playing with his father in a park when he was 5. This child has 5 other siblings and so it was always a very core, important rule in his house that the kids immediately follow the parents' instructions completely - to avoid total chaos and develop a strong sense of trust in the family. The boy and his dad were playing Frisbee, and the dad noticed that a van had been parked near them for about 20 minutes, with the man in the front seat doing nothing but watching them play. The dad threw the Frisbee and it accidentally veered over and landed right next to the van. The boy went running towards it, and as he did, the man got out of the van, opened the back door and stood there waiting for the boy to reach him. The dad immediately called his son back to him, and even though it didn't make sense to the boy, he left the Frisbee and went to his father immediately. 10 more feet, a little bit of whining or quibbling, or delayed obedience of not listening, and this boy would have been tossed in the back of the van and never heard from again. This was confirmed when, as soon as the boy ran back to his father, the man jumped back into the van, slammed the door shut and sped away, realizing his intentions had been found out.

It is so incredibly important that children form a habit of obeying their parents, on big things and small, whether the kids think it's important or not. Kids do not know what they don't know, and parents never know when having an obedient child may save their life.

So, make it clear, briefly, how extremely important it is to you that your son follow instructions completely and immediately, whether it is about something big or something small, from now on, and how committed you are as a parent to helping him do this. You can set up rewards if you like, such as once a week he gets to pick a place to go after school (like an arcade, a park, Jamba Juice, whatever suits his personality) if he has completely followed instructions that week. You can even ask him for his ideas of what would make a good reward.

You can also set up consequences for not following instructions or not listening. You must make it more difficult/unpleasant/boring for your son to disobey your instructions/commands/requests, than it is for him to follow them. You can ask him what he thinks would be a good consequence to apply whenever he chooses not to follow your instructions (and do make it clear to him that this is his CHOICE, he is capable of choosing to do the right thing, it's not something that just "happens" to him). The consequence must be carefully chosen so that it is quick, effective and can be applied immediately regardless of the situation. You may have to apply this consequence a number of times depending on how long it takes him to get used to the new rules, so make sure that it is effective and not something you will be reluctant to apply if he only disobeys a LITTLE bit. The parents must be 100% consistent and committed to the change in order for it to happen - otherwise he'll just find ways to push the boundaries more and more, and the problem will actually get worse rather than better.

You can let him help choose the consequence if you want, because if a child has been involved in choosing the rewards and consequences for a behavior, they are more likely to perform the desired behavior because they learn

    1. The rewards or consequences are something THEY choose by their own behavior - NOT something mom or dad does TO them if they act up (this is a great life lesson),
    2. You trust them.

Examples of good consequences (for not listening) might be losing TV/computer/video games/Legos/etc. for the rest of that day. Just one day - but he's losing them completely for that day. Or, better yet, he must complete a chore of your choosing before bedtime that day. It doesn't matter if he disobeys your instructions 10 minutes before bedtime or your family is all on vacation and he would have to do a chore in the hotel room - he still needs to complete a chore of your choosing BEFORE going to bed that night. Both of these are things that can be applied quickly, that day, anywhere.

Additionally, he of course will need to then complete the command or instructions you gave him originally.

Just make sure everything is completely clear when you have your discussion with your son about your new policy on following instructions. If he is involved in the process, and given the heads up beforehand, he will be much more likely to be successful in creating a habit of obedience. And the most important part of the process is the next day, when you give him instructions, will you be consistent in following through? It's OK to give him a reminder by asking, if he continues in his behavior of not listening instead of following your instructions, "Are you disobeying my request? Because I've got 2 really good ideas for chores I'd like you to do tonight if you aren't going to follow instructions!" or "I was really looking forward to going to the video game store with you after school on Friday, so I hope you follow my instructions quickly." He might need a reminder a few times of the new consequences and rewards, and that's OK.

Once it's more uncomfortable to disobey (like not listening) than it is to obey, he'll stop! It may take a few weeks, but my guess is that this may work quite well for him. Good luck!

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