I recall a funny story from many years ago about the 6-year-old daughter of friends of ours who was in the habit of ignoring her dad’s frequent requests to lower the sound on the TV when he would come home tired after a long day at work. One especially impatient evening, after asking her once (and she pretending not to hear), he abruptly walked right over and just turned off the set. At this unexpected turn of events, she indignantly replied “Hey! I had two more chances!!”
American author Robert Fulghum says “Don’t worry that your kids don’t listen to you. Worry that they are always watching you!”. Kids are very perceptive, and as the story above shows, sometimes we train them to take advantage of us by letting them see how far they can go before we lose our cool. Try to set limits early rather than late in the game, applying both courtesy and firm resolve! You can also have fun with your kids while setting limits, even if you remember a stern approach to limits and discipline from your own childhood experience.
It also happens that many kids are not trying to test our patience, but are actually suffering from undiscovered problems of hearing. Ear infections are common and can result in scarring or abundant ear wax that helps protect the ear drum from damage but can act like a permanent set of earplugs. In addition, children are prone to sticking things in their ears or itching inside with sticks or even pencils that can break off inside. It is not unheard of for insects to make a little home inside the ear, which would also become covered over time in cerumen (ear wax). Unless your child’s hearing is being tested regularly, none of this would be obvious.
I always like to explore every situation from the simplest level to the most complex, so any discussion of why a child doesn’t pay attention when we talk to them has to start with a check of their hearing. If you want to try something at home before visiting a doctor or an audiologist, you can gently clean excess wax and dirt from the ears in a couple of ways.
The first way is to put a couple of drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide into the ear while the child is lying on one side, or sitting at a table with the head on a pillow. This creates a bubbling, crackling noise inside the ear as the peroxide slowly dissolves the wax. It tickles and might even seem quite loud, but it is neither painful nor dangerous and can even be pretty funny. You might start by letting your child put some into your ear, and laugh a little as it starts to work. A minute or two should be enough, but in difficult cases it might need to be repeated daily for a few days. When you sit up, have a tissue handy to catch the peroxide as it trickles out. This is actually an excellent treatment for stopping a cold or sore throat as well.
Another trick is to use a bulb syringe to gently direct warm water into the ear. This is best done in the bathtub or shower. Use a plastic cup full of water and draw it into the bulb. When you squeeze the bulb, the water will come out in a stream but not forcefully enough to be harmful to the ear (of course, it’s good to be careful anyway!). This process should help dislodge dirt, wax and foreign objects. If more help is needed, sometimes a few drops of olive oil in the ear can help dissolve a waxy blockage as well.
I have already seen a couple of cases of children who were suffering from a severe hearing impairment that already affected their education and which could have been relieved with the above methods if they had been applied in time! It is also worth mentioning that research has shown a significant difference in how boys and girls naturally process auditory information. This is noticeable from the earliest days of infancy and lasts right through high school if not into adulthood. Just knowing this can make all the difference to how you are able to support the little boys in your life whose talents lie in making and doing rather than listening!