Q: My Two Sons Claim They Don’t Hear My Directions …

by Hal | April 28th, 2014

A reader says their family dynamics get “tough” over this:

I have two sons who tend “not to hear” my direction/instruction. I often wonder if I’m the voice of one calling out in an empty desert. *sigh* Any ideas on how to direct/instruct and remain calm when I’m trying to get down to only saying it once?

Boys Dont Hear Directions

We share your concern that kids sometimes seem intent on disregarding our directions. It’s dangerous to them, it is an inconvenience and frustration to us, and if it’s a matter of disobedience, it’s sin. Children are specifically commanded by God to obey their parents, and willful disobedience is a very serious matter in the eyes of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3).

We’d caution you, though, not to buy in too strongly to the “first-time obedience” ideal. For most parents, that is a shining goal of only speaking one time and then watching our children jump to comply with every request, like well-trained soldiers. One problem with that is simply that communication has two people involved – one speaking, and one hearing, and there are several reasons that speaking one time might not get the message across.

Maybe They Really Don’t Hear You

Boys honestly don’t hear the same way girls do. They honestly do not hear the tones of the human voice as well as girls. You should expect to have to speak more loudly, distinctly, clearly, for them to catch the message at all. That doesn’t mean you have to scream, and you shouldn’t, but a quiet word like you find effective with your daughters won’t even penetrate the mental noise for most boys. Speak up, Mom!

Often we live in an environment where sound doesn’t carry. Our house was built by a contractor for his newly-married son. One of his gifts to the young couple was extensive sound-proofing in the walls. We find that even when someone yells, it’s difficult to hear from upstairs to downstairs, or more than a room or two away on the same floor. Carpet, bookcases, and closed doors only compound the problem. Couple this with the tendency for us to have our earbuds in, and the sound may simply be lost.

Maybe They Hear But They Aren’t Paying Attention

Guys become skilled at screening out noise. In adults we call it the gift of “focus,” but it means that your words (even yells) might be bouncing off their mental shields. I have to consciously look away from my computer or put down my book when someone talks to me, or 80% of what they say only reaches my eardrum – not my brain.

Be sure you get their attention first. You probably do best to call their names for any instruction or direction. “Jamie, I need you to take out the trash,” is more likely to catch their ear than simply saying “Son, blah blah blah.” Sometimes it’s necessary to call them, “Michael!” then when you have eye contact, follow up with your instruction.

But Maybe They Are Ignoring You

The British naval hero Horatio Lord Nelson was blind in one eye. At the Battle of Copenhagen, he was pressing his attack forward in a crucial battle when his commander-in-chief ran up the signal flags to break off the assault. When Nelson’s officers pointed out the flags to him, Nelson carefully put his spyglass to the sightless eye and announced, “I really don’t see any signal.”

Our sons can play the same trick, whether they intentionally do it, or just don’t hear you clearly and choose to think you were calling somebody else.

To be fair and just to them, we have to rule out the cases above – can’t hear, or aren’t paying attention – but when we’re reasonably sure we’re being ignored, then we have to respond. And yes, that will mean we need to interrupt what we’re doing and go find them where they are. You’ll need to explain to him the seriousness of disobedience, both in the eyes of God and you parents, as well as the danger involved to the child, and then take whatever steps are appropriate for correction (we have some suggestions for encouraging repentance, seeking and granting forgiveness, and restoring the relationship in our book, Raising Real Men).

Then you can apply some creative reinforcement. It may be they should have an extra chore in addition to the one you were calling them for (Lesson = If you come when I call, you might not get extra work). You might make a point later to call the children for a treat, and whoever doesn’t come on the first (or second) call, doesn’t get the ice cream. (Lesson = Ignoring a call may mean you miss an opportunity). We’d encourage you to try and fit the correction to the offense, rather than taking an unrelated action (like, “You didn’t take out the trash when I told you, so I’m taking away your cell phone.”  Trash=Cell phone? )

Luke 2:51 tells us that even though He was eager to be out and about His heavenly Father’s business, the young Jesus continued in obedience to His earthly parents, submitting Himself to their direction and placing Himself in submission to them. There is nothing wrong with your child being in submission to your parenting — in fact, it’s not only commanded, but demonstrated by Jesus Himself.  Part of that will be learning to listen for his parent’s instructions, so press on with the challenge at hand!

Lord, please help us to discern whether our sons aren’t getting the message or whether they are ignoring us on purpose. When we’ve figured that out, give us wisdom and grace to discipline them and point them to You for forgiveness. Please help us to control our tempers in the midst of it. In Christ’s name…

Related Resources

RRM Mom & DadOur book, Raising Real Men: Surviving, Teaching and Appreciating Boys, discusses all things things and much more from the perspective of parents who’ve raised six sons and whose three who are already adults are serving God. You can get the Mom & Dad Special (a book for Mom to read in the bathroom and an audiobook for Dad to listen to on the commute) to get you both on the same page! Find out more here.

 

 

Hal and Melanie SugarLoaf Web (c)2009Your friends, 

Hal & Melanie Young

 

 

  • Lindsey

    I find stating their name first helps. Sometimes I have them repeat what I just said to make sure they heard me. I do this with my dear husband as well.

  • Charity Vanderhoof

    We do have this problem in our house with listening. I used to think it was a sin issue, but no matter how much I addressed it nothing changed. I just kept praying about it. Then as we were seeking speech therapy for our youngest son we discovered that he has Sensory Processing Disorder. Part of his sensory processing issue is that he would hear what we tell him, but his brain is not processing it correctly. So for a long time I had disciplined him for not obeying my instructions only for him to immediately disobey again, and again, and again, and again. This happened several times a day at our house. In reality even though I would ask him if he understood he would tell me yes, really he did not understand. So nothing good was getting accomplished. Once we discovered what was going on we have changed how we talk to him and are doing therapeutic things to help him with this. It is all helping. Once we understood what was going on and changed things I discovered that I did not have the stubborn, defiant child I thought I did. He is really a compliant child who simply did not understand his world. Our older son also has this but to a much lesser degree and my husband had this problem his entire life (even though it was not a diagnosis back then) right up until he had brain surgery to correct his epilepsy. That surgery was a success, he no longer has seizures, and his brain is healing in ways it never had because of daily seizures that happened his entire life. His seizures had caused him to not process auditory messages correctly. As his brain healed this problem has significantly decreased. However, he can describe to me what it is like. He said it was like the words people said would float up in the air and get all jumbled up. Then he would have to pull the words down and put them into order before he could understand what someone had said. He remembers being punished for disobedience as a child when he was still trying to put the instructions in order so he could understand and then obey. That has helped me understand what my boys go through.

    I share this so that just in case any other reader out there who might have a child with this problem can gain some understanding. I can tell you that occupational therapy really does help. I truly believe that my sons are going to entirely overcome this and have very successful lives.

    • raisingrealmen

      Thanks so much for sharing this with us. I think it will be an encouragement and a help to parents. ~Melanie

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