Getting Kids To Listen To You

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

listen versus ignore

Are you tired of your kids not listening to you? You are not alone! Many parents report frustration when they need to repeat themselves.

One parent wrote “I’m so irritated about getting them to do things because they need to be nagged day after day.” Can you relate to this? Nagging doesn’t feel good to you or your kids. It also doesn’t work well in helping your kids become more responsible.

When you nag, your kids learn to rely on you for reminders. The unspoken message is that they don’t need to act until you’ve said it a bunch of times and are probably screaming.

Understanding Your Message

What do you really mean when you say you want your kids to listen to you? You want more than your kids being able to repeat back what you said. You want them to understand what you are communicating and do what you are asking them to do.

Listening is an active process which involves:

  • Paying attention to what is being said
  • Observing the tone of voice and gestures
  • Thinking about what is being communicated
  • Responding
Whether they respond as you would like is another matter! If you try to force your kids to obey your request, you’ve set yourself up for a power struggle. You may say to yourself “Well I’m the parent! My kids should listen to me and do what I ask the first time!”

You’re right. You are the parent and the person in authority. However, your kids are independent beings who choose their own behavior. Ultimately you control your own behavior, not theirs.

Being crystal clear about what you control allows you to focus your energy where it counts – changing your own behavior. A natural response to kids not listening is to raise your voice and repeat yourself. This teaches your kids to wait until you are screaming like a maniac before they actually do what you’ve asked. This is not the lesson you want your kids to learn!

Encouraging Listening The First Time

You control how often you repeat yourself. Plan to say something only once. This will encourage your kids to listen the first time because they can’t count on you repeating yourself.

You can increase the likelihood your kids will absorb your message by doing the following:

  • Be physically near to them, not speaking from across the room or another room
  • Touch them lightly on the shoulder or arm as you speak
  • Ask them to confirm what you said using their own words
Doing these three things reinforces the importance of your message. If your kids do not do what you have requested, help them do it instead of repeating your request.

For example, a mom and her daughter were out for a walk. There was a grassy bank next to the sidewalk and the girl walked up on the hill. The mom told her “Don’t walk in the wet grass!” The girl continued walking along the hill. After a couple minutes the mom exclaimed “I asked you to get off the wet grass!” The girl still didn’t respond. The irritated mom began counting “That’s 1, that’s 2”, before she hit “3” the girl was back on the sidewalk.

If you make a request and your child ignores it, take action. In this example, the mother could have walked up the hill, taken her daughter’s hand and led her back to the sidewalk. Her daughter would have received a clear message that if she doesn’t follow her mother’s request, her mother will help her do it.

What else makes it more difficult for your kids to listen? Kids engaged in watching TV or playing on digital devices find it difficult to shift their attention. Your kids will need to pause or stop their digital activities in order to pay full attention.

So how can you change your home environment to improve the chances your kids will listen? One family decided to allow TV watching and playing on digital devices at certain times of the day – from 4:00 – 5:00 PM and 7:00 – 8:00 PM.

They eliminated watching in the morning before school. This made it far easier for the kids to get out the door on time. They also eliminated watching right before dinner. This helped the kids focus on setting the table and being to dinner on time.

Natural Consequences Of Not Listening

When you teach your children to listen the first time, you are giving them responsibility for remembering and acting. Reminding your children puts the responsibility back on you.

Suppose your child’s library book is due at school tomorrow and you’ve asked him to put it in his backpack. If he forgets, he won’t be able to check another book out of the library. As long as you stop yourself from reminding him again, he will learn from the consequences.

Natural consequences are powerful teachers. Sometimes there isn’t a natural consequence so you may need to impose a consequence. For example, if you’ve asked your child to turn off the TV and she has not done it, you can turn off the TV for her.

You can change your behavior to increase the chances your kids will listen the first time. Try to set up the situation so they can successfully listen to you. If they don’t do what you’ve asked, do not repeat yourself or start yelling. Either take action to help them do what you’ve requested or let a natural consequence happen. Soon they’ll learn that listening the first time is their best choice!

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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