The Quick Report

Want Your Kids to Actually Listen? Try This

The answer to getting kids to listen may have been in front of us the whole time. The answer lies in making a simple adjustment to your word choices and sentences that can turn a defiant kid into a compliant one.

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Experts say to Try “Declarative Language”

The language style that many parents use, and have used for centuries, with their kids is to give commands, give instructions, or ask direct questions. This is known as imperative language. These typically communicate an action that needs to be taken and may convey a sense of urgency or importance.

Examples of Commands

  • Make your bed.
  • Do your homework.
  • Clean your room.

Examples of Direct Questions

  • What did you do at school today?
  • Tell me about your test.

What Makes “Declarative Language” Different?

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Experts say imperative language isn’t the best approach to use with kids. They say using declarative language is much better because it requires that kids have to make decisions and it teaches them to self-regulate.

Examples of Declarative Language Vs. Imperative Language

  • The cat looks hungry. (Instead of: Feed the cat).
  • It’s so cold today. I’m going to put on my coat. (Instead of: Put on your coat).
  • I just remembered you had a test today. (Instead of: Tell me about your test.)

Hearing Thoughts and Problem-Solving Out Loud

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One of the main strengths of declarative language is that it allows the child to hear a parent’s thoughts “out loud.” This also includes the parent verbalizing, inferencing, and problem-solving as well.

By children hearing their parents narrate their thoughts and activities out loud, the child learns to develop their own “inner voice” which involves them in the thought process and problem-solving.

Here Are Some Examples:

  • “I wonder what would happen if we tried this…?”
  • “Last time I… It didn’t work. This time, I’m going to…”

Declarative Language Makes Kids Own Their Actions

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Another method of getting kids to listen is to use observation. Suppose your child yelled at her sibling. Instead of telling her: “Go say you’re sorry.” Declarative language would take this approach: “You yelled at your sister, and she looks very sad now. She might need a hug or an apology. What do you think? Would that help?”

This approach forces the child to think about what has happened and makes them share in the ownership.

“Use (declarative language) as a teaching point for cause and effect,” says Jess Beachkofsky, a psychiatrist and parenting coach. “Declarative language leaves an opening for collaboration and cooperation.”

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Unlike commands, declarative language engages a child’s curiosity. While all children tend to ask questions, declarative language makes them look to their own inner sense of wonder and reasoning.

Further, imperative language, especially in the form of commands, puts pressure on the child to respond. In contrast, the use of declarative language encourages the child to not only reason and problem-solve, but to make a conscious decision to engage. This can make them a much more willing participant. Compliant, rather than defiant.

Read More: 10 Things Kids Don’t Have at School Anymore