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Why Pay Attention to Me?

Why should your children pay attention to anything you say or tell them?

Stop a second to think about what your first reaction was to the question. For most people, “Because I am the parent” or “Because I am the adult” or some variation on the theme comes to mind.

Both of these answers are reasonable and appropriate. What I want to point out here is that there are several reasons why your children should listen to what you say. It will be helpful for you to think about and understand which reason is operating when you want your children to listen, to pay attention, to accept what you are saying to them or telling them.

Your being clear about why they should pay attention will help them be clear about why they should pay attention this time. There is an additional payoff for you. When you are at work or in other situations where you want people to pay attention to you, being clear in your own mind about why they should pay attention will make it more likely that they will accept you and what you are saying.

Until you get comfortable knowing why you think your child or anyone else should listen to what you say, it will help to stop a second to be clear with your self before saying anything where you expect some action or response from the other person. Give it a try. You may be surprised to see how much difference it makes.

Okay, here we go.

Title Authority: Children are told that they should or should not do things because you – their parent – said so. Your title – parent – gives you the right to tell them what to do or what not to do.

Reward/Punishment Authority: If they submit to or go along with what you want or say, you will reward them in some positive way. If they do not, you will punish them.

Referent Authority: You present to them ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, and encourage them to conform to these standards. Sometimes this takes the form of encouraging certain behavior because this is “what we do” in our family or is consistent with what our family believes.

The Voice of Experience: You base your demands, expectations, and suggestions on your personal experience with the same or similar situation. “When I was young,…” is a typical intro to the voice of experience. Another similar approach starts with, “When you have lived as long as I have, you will…” The idea is that your experience takes precedence over the perceptions and judgments of the young person.

Information Authority: Your authority is based on your having knowledge or information that the young person does not possess. This authority approach is also in operation when you encourage the young person to read the instructions, talk with someone who knows about that sort of thing, or go to the library to find more information. The same authority approach is being used when you encourage the young person to check with his teacher, talk to a professional to learn the facts, or to wait awhile until you or the young person can find out more about the situation.

Control of Resources and Opportunities: This approach is ordinarily being used when youngsters are given allowances, when privileges are given or withheld, when special arrangements are made for things like lessons or the opportunity to participate in special events, or when you are trying to influence the behavior of the young person by controlling resources or opportunities. This naturally includes things like driving privileges, using the family car, grounding the young person, sending young children to bed early, and so on.

Acceptance/Rejection Authority: This approach is used far more than many parents realize. Acceptance is being given anytime you give the young person a special hug, smile at her, say nice things either to the young person or to other people about the youngster, or in some way reflect your approval and affirmation. Also, acceptance authority is being used when you reflect a continuing caring and love for the young person even when she gets into trouble, does something of which you disapprove, or behaves outside of the boundaries of family norms and expectations. Conversely, you are rejecting the young person when you become angry with her, send her to her room, do not talk to her or give the youngster the “cold shoulder,” or in other ways let the young person know that you are displeased, do not feel very good about her right now, or are unhappy with the young person. An important part of this authority approach is to devote the time and sensitivity required to know when in fact you are using it.

Now you know so there you go.