Does this sound familiar: you are trying to get going with the evening routine (hoping you will actually have some time for yourself instead of dropping dead once your kid is finally in bed). Your child is building something out of Lego. So you say: "Time to brush your teeth!". Zero reaction. "Can you brush your teeth please?". Tumbleweed... Crickets… "Come on, brush your teeth!" - and so it goes, on and on and on. Same happens with "can you get dressed please", "clean up your toys", and the list goes on - you get what I mean. And so then we yell into the universe (either out loud or in our own head): "WHY DON'T YOU LISTEN?!?!?!"
Yes, why don't they listen to us? Well… Before we find out the answer, let's imagine another situation (I am sure you will recognise it as well). You are working on something. Writing an important email. Cooking an elaborate meal. Painting a painting. Fixing up a fence. And your child comes up to you and says "Hey let's go out! It's sunny out! Let's go out, let’s go out!!! I'm bored, time to go!!!" So you say: "Can't you see, I'm working right now!!" (or "busy"). "Give me time to finish what I am doing, and then we'll head out". So they leave you for about 30 seconds, then come back and persist; next thing you know, your concentration goes out of the window and most likely you get upset.
What is the difference between the two scenarios above? If you think of it, actually there is no difference: there is a person focussed on a project (be it building Lego or writing an email), and there is another person that has a different plan for both of them in mind, so they suddenly interrupt and demand immediate change of action. The person whose activity has been interrupted either ignores the interruption, trying to still focus on doing what they were doing, then eventually they are likely to get upset and give up. Do you see it now? When we demand that our child brushes their teeth RIGHT NOW - it seems perfectly reasonable to us, as we are following our plan. However, it seems completely unfair and out of the blue to them, as they are focussed on something else. They know they can ignore you for a bit and try to finish what they are doing (just like you know you have a few minutes to try and finish your work before your child kicks off because you are not dropping everything to go to the playground). So how can we fix this?
Well, what is missing here is connection. In both scenarios, we do not connect with each other, we do not acknowledge what the other person is doing. So how do we connect? With the brushing teeth scenario, instead of yelling "time to brush your teeth" from another room - have a look at what your child is actually doing, and REALLY, genuinely get curious about it. Connect with them, show that you understand that whatever they are doing is important to them. Acknowledge it, and explain that it is getting late, and give them some time to finish whatever they are doing, and get them to understand and acknowledge that they will brush their teeth after that time is gone, and will need to finish their project the next day.
When you treat your child with respect about what they are doing, you should eventually get that same respect from them about your own projects. To encourage this, continue connecting to your child. When they come to you and interrupt whatever you are working on - don't just brush them off. Take a couple of minutes to explain to them what you are doing and why you cannot drop everything right now. Give them a realistic timeframe within which you will finish your project, and stick to it. I often tend to get into the "give me just 5 more min!!!" loop, and it ends up being disappointing for everyone.
So, remember: your children focus on their toys and projects the same way that you focus on your work and other projects. The more you connect with each other and get really interested in each other's activity, the more respect and empathy you will have for each other, and ultimately the more fun you will have as a family!