Blog: The Secret to First Time Listeners (Part I)

How to get your child to listen the first time you ask.

This column was originally published in the national edition of the parenting newsletter, Macaroni Kid in April 2010.

Macaroni Kid Readers: How do I get my kids to listen the first time? I can’t stand it when they talk back or just ignore me! I don’t want to have to keep repeating myself and then finally yelling.
Noël Janis-Norton:  Lack of cooperation is just about the most frustrating part of being a parent. Luckily, it’s never too late to get children into the habit of first time listening and cooperating, but you’ll need specific strategies to make it happen. There are no quick fixes, I’m sorry to say.
The good news is that it is possible for children to cooperate 90 percent of the time, and that’s what the program I’ve developed, which is called Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting, achieves. I’ll be explaining exactly how you can put these effective strategies into practice to solve this challenge.
So if your child tends to ignore your instructions or talks back or says “in a minute,” the first thing you’ll need to think about is “how can I motivate my son to want to cooperate more often the first time I ask?” You might be tempted to use consequences to motivate him, but you’ve probably noticed that this strategy doesn’t work.  There is a better way, and it starts with a technique called Descriptive Praise. It is the most powerful motivator I have ever come across, both as a parent and as a professional working with families.
Descriptive Praise is the opposite of how we usually praise.  Generally, we try to encourage good behavior by using lots of superlatives: “Great job”, “Wow”, “Awesome”, “Way to go!” It seems like a natural thing to do, but the problem is that superlative praise is so vague that the child is unclear about what they actually did that was so great. There isn’t any “useful” information in this type of exaggerated praise.
The kind of praise that’s far more effective is to just describe exactly what your child did right or exactly what he didn’t do wrong—being very specific, such as:

  • You did what I asked the first time. That was cooperative.
  • You didn’t say ‘In a minute’. I asked you to set the table and you did it right away without complaining.

On my CD about Descriptive Praise, a parent tells this story about motivating her 6 and 8 year-old boys to be better listeners:

Descriptive praise worked right away as a tool to help my boys cooperate. A day or two after Noël’s seminar, I was making dinner and told my boys to wash their hands and come to the table. One of them got up from the couch and started walking toward the bathroom. I jumped in with descriptive praise, saying “You’re a first time listener.” As soon as I said this, his older brother jumped off the couch and said “I’m a first time listener too” and rushed off to wash his hands. I hadn’t expected those words to have such an effect. The next day my six-year-old washed his hands and came to the table and announced, “Look, Mom, I’m a ‘no time listener’ because I did it before you even asked!”

When you make a point of mentioning each time your children listens and cooperates the first time, very soon they will start doing it more and more. Descriptive Praise brings out the best in children. You can use this strategy to improve any behavior that’s problematic. This is a technique that every parent must have in their tool kit if they want cooperative, confident and self-reliant children.
Now in this short column, I can only scratch the surface of this essential parenting tool, so you are bound to have questions. My CD, “Descriptive Praise, The #1 Motivator for Children”, answers all the questions parent have about how to put Descriptive Praise into practice, gives dozens of examples that you can use to improve a wide range of family issues and shares success stories from parents, so I recommend having this resource.
And as important as Descriptive Praise is, it’s certainly not the only strategy you’ll need to help your children get into the habit of first-time cooperation. Next month, I’ll share another key technique that prevents behavior problems, including kids tuning you out or arguing back. So for the next four weeks, take the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting challenge and start using Descriptive Praise whenever you notice your children doing something right or even any tiny improvement. You’ll see positive results sooner than you can imagine.

For parenting tips, follow the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Blog, get more tips from Noël on Twitter @calmerparenting and to sign-up for the newsletter, email info@calmerparenting.com. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

ROBERT E. FISHBACK December 02, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Maybe your rebels don't like Macaroni. Maybe the Macaroni Kids have no violence. Remember, you are competing with tall entertainment including shootings, knifings, and explosions. Maybe you should teach them yourself by word and example.
ROBERT E. FISHBACK December 02, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Nicole, I thought my comment failed so I wrote several more, pls delete thx b
Nicole Charky December 04, 2012 at 03:20 AM
@Bob - I'm not sure which ones you'd like me to delete! Thanks for commenting and starting a dialogue. What type of values do you think stick for all generations? What types of activities promote healthy behaviors?
ROBERT E. FISHBACK December 04, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Nicole: Surprised you haven't deleted it all ! :) The first two and may the third unless you think it makes a point. As to your question, the values of the older generations didn't stick. Beats me. Someone has to constantly be re sticking or it all comes unglued. You and your companions are really upgrading this patch on an almost daily basis. That thread about interviewing single people was really a good addition.


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