“My voice has lost some power,” says mom and writer for Parent CoCurry Winters. She has three young kids and when she calls their names, “I am met with silence,” Curry shared. “Their lack of response makes me unsure if my directions are going to be followed.”
This is a scene typical of households with young kids, specifically preschoolers, who are testing out their newfound independence with defiance and stubbornness. Curry sought for solutions and found one that actually works for her: clapping a rhythm and expecting them to clap the same rhythm back to her.
Her trick is based on insight from Robert Abramson, director of the Dalcroze Institute in Manhattan, who said that a combination of rhythm and movement help school kids learn to pay attention. “You make a game of it,” he told The New York Times. And kids love games, right?
“So, I began to use a simple technique heard in many schools — a rhythmic clap that my kids have to repeat,” she said. The parenting trick grabs her kids’ attention and, because they have to respond back, also gets to stop whatever it is they’re doing. This way, they’re ready to listen to whatever she has to say. “It is clear and direct. It doesn’t make me want to scream and yell in frustration!” explained the mom.
“Clapping has become a training step in showing respect, responding in a timely manner, obedience, and how to listen for cues. It has created a habitual response that keeps their brain engaged,” she added.
Tired of yelling and want to try it at home? You want your kids to start packing up their toys, for example. You enter the room and clap to the rhythm of the first line of the Happy Birthday song. Once you’ve established the rules on what they’re supposed to do, ideally, upon hearing this, your kids will stop what they’re doing to clap the rhythm back.
Why does the trick work? It’s because connecting is the first step in communicating with your child — even you’re just telling him to get dressed or clean up. To be able to do that, you have to first get your child’s attention to make sure he’s ready to listen.
The mom achieves this through rhythmic clapping. Try this advice as well from psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham. She said to touch your child’s arm or make a comment on what she’s doing (“I like that tower you’ve built but it’s time to clean up”) to get her attention. She added, “Don't try to give instructions or requests from across the room. Move in close.”
Yelling isn't something you want to happen often in your home too. First, because it can ruin your mood — and it's not good for your vocal chords. But also, overtime, it becomes a bad habit for you and the kids.
“Your kids are effectively learning that they can ignore you until you yell, or to put it another way, that you only really mean it when you yell. And you are learning from their response to yell in order to get their attention,” said Erica Reischer, Ph.D., a psychologist, parent coach and author, in an article for Pschology Today. “Over time, this dynamic creates a dysfunctional pattern of communication that keeps everyone stuck.”
Keeping your cool is definitely a challenge when the kids are seemingly refusing to listen on purpose, but remember that it’s difficult to connect with your child — and hard for him to listen to you — when you’re yelling. (If you're looking for a parenting trick on how to keep yourself from yelling, this mom has one that's easy to do.)