My kids have selective hearing. Chances are your kids, or any others you’ve interacted with, have selective hearing, too. Simple, repeated requests such as ‘Please shut the refrigerator door” or “Don’t leave your wet towel on the floor” go ignored unless all three of these criteria are met:

A) I ask multiple times

B) I am no more than 4 feet away from the child being asked

C) The decibel level of my voice increases with each request

Strategies that have worked over the years include: opening a bag of chips or a candy wrapper from two floors down and across the house- they hear those sounds just fine- and singing “Happy Birthday”. This works because they think there will be cake. Due to overuse, my kids no longer fall for that one, but feel free to try it for yourselves.

It’s not that I lack the ability to hold people’s attention. Not long ago, my sister and I were invited to deliver the keynote address at a breast cancer fundraising event. As I addressed the audience of more than six hundred people, blinding spotlights blazed in my eyes, heightening my sense of hearing. And what I heard were the sounds of sympathetic sighs; tongues softly clucking in disbelief at some of the more harrowing parts of our story; unabashed weeping. These were the sounds of rapt attention.  There was no need to repeat anything because every single person was listening.

Of course these were adults, none of whom was a child of mine so that did help somewhat.  But I’m pretty sure that it was just as much our compelling story of loss, endurance, drastic health measures and prevention that attracted all of those open eyes and ears and closed mouths to us. Here is a brief synopsis and you can decide for yourselves.

Our mother died of breast cancer at 42, leaving behind a husband and 5 children. I was 20 and the oldest of my siblings and I became hyper vigilant about my own breast health, going for scans and checkups regularly. Ten years later, after our father died of cancer too, I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene (carriers have an 87% chance of developing breast cancer) and decided to have a preventative double mastectomy. My decision was based on both wanting to stay alive for my 4 small kids as well as wanting to set a good example for my younger siblings. The mastectomy turned out to be lifesaving as two early but very aggressive cancers were found in the breast tissue that had been removed. 

This served as a wakeup call to my younger sisters who were only in their twenties at the time. Their gene tests indicated that they, too, carried a BRCA gene and they subsequently had preventative double mastectomies too.

While up on that stage on a Sunday afternoon in a packed New Jersey hotel ballroom, a fleeting thought crossed my mind:  Why can’t I get my kids to listen to me like this?

I give directives:  Wash your hands before you eat that! Get off your phone! Put on sunscreen! to little avail. And good luck to me when I try talking to all 4 of them together.  It becomes a game of verbal whack-a-mole, when I get one to shut up the next one jumps in with a joke or snarky comment (to be fair, they likely get this from me).

But something amazing happened when my sister and I stood before an audience 5000 miles away from my kids in London and shared our message of breast health empowerment. A friend of mine broadcast our speech live via my Instagram so anyone who couldn’t be there with us wouldn’t miss out and all four of my kids watched.  And they listened. They called me later that evening to tell me how proud they were of me, how powerful my message was and it occurred to me that my amazing kids DO have the capacity to listen; when I’m saying something important. They listened and that meant more than the complete attention of a room filled with hundreds of people.

I now know how to harness the power of social media to work for me. I can post videos on Instagram of me demonstrating how easy it is to put away the milk, or holding a sign that says “STOP FIGHTING!”, and maybe a boomerang of me just standing there with a spinning electric toothbrush. I’ll tag them in these posts and they will beg me to stop embarrassing them because their friends all follow me, too.

I’m sure that eventually this newfound power of mine will fade and my kids will grow jaded to my attention grabbing ways. I’d better start developing my next idea now so I’m ready for when that inevitably happens.

9 thoughts on “How I Got My Kids to Listen to Me

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