Tips & tricks to get your Children to listen
“Hey. HEY. HEEYYY!!! Are you listening to me?!” (Insert your child’s name in lieu of HEY.)
And no. They likely are not listening to you.
I know. It’s so incredibly frustrating, right? Like how hard is it?
Well, for kids, it can be really hard. Like almost impossible. I speak from experience.
In fact, my older son didn’t listen so much that I thought something was wrong with him.Truly. I brought it up to our pediatrician many a time.
Well, 4 years later, I’ve finally accepted that that he’s not a miniature-sized adult. He’s just a kid.
When I stumbled upon this realization, I turned to Google.
“How to get your kid to listen” – that is the exact phrase I asked the Google Gods that be. And they did not let me down.
Here within this post are contained the secrets of getting your kids to listen to you.
Why Don’t Your Kids Listen to You?
Ahhh. This used to be my million dollar question! I would desperately ask my toddler and, later pre-schooler, this question on the daily.
Whyyyyy won’t you just listen to me? Don’t you know I’m trying to keep you safe? Don’t you see how much smoother our days would go?
Here are the most common reasons our kids don’t listen to us:
1. They feel powerless.
Kids have two needs that need to be met, and if they aren’t, our kids will modify their behavior to get what they need. Those two needs are attention and power.
Feeling powerless is a big reason why kids don’t listen.
Think about it – if someone controlled every facet of your day from what time you wake up, to what you wear, to what you eat, to where you go, to what time you go to bed – you would feel completely out of control.
And being the independent person that you are, you’d start to push back or rebel, right?
That’s pretty much what our kiddos are doing. If we’re not meeting that power need for them, then one of the few ways they can feel they have power is by NOT doing what we ask them to do.
2. Your child is too young.
Are your commands over your kid’s head? With younger kids under the age of 2 or 3, they may not be capable of understanding what you’re asking of them yet. This happens with older children as well.
If I ask my 5 year-old to clean up his room, he completely ignores me. I finally figured out that he ignores me because the idea of cleaning his room is overwhelming to him. Now, I’ll say something like “Let’s clean your room. I’ll help you.” and I’ll give him a very specific direction like, “Please put your superheroes on the shelf.”
3. Your kid is in the zone.
Your child could be so engrossed in what they are doing that they genuinely do not hear you.
4. They’re feeling some type of way.
Maybe they are hungry, or it’s close to their bedtime and they’re really tired. Maybe they feel overwhelmed because there is too much going on and they are shutting down. Maybe they are stressed out about something that happened at school that day.
Pay closer attention to cues that could potentially tip you off to something like this.
5. It’s a phase.
Our kids go through a number of growing stages. It’s crazy and it’s impossible to keep up with!
Definitely try to learn more about these stages and at what ages they happen. It could give you some insight as to why your child isn’t listening.
For instance, toddlers like to test our boundaries to really understand what the limits are. It’s incredibly frustrating for us parents, but it’s really healthy and normal for them.
6. Is your command reasonable?
I am so completely guilty of this one. In fact the other night, I asked my son to make his bed. It’s a full sized bed that sits a bit high and also has one side pushed against the wall.
My husband looked at me like I was crazy.
“What? Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked.
He replied, “Jen, he can’t possibly make his bed. Give him something easier to do.”
My husband was totally right. And if he wasn’t there, my son probably would have ignored me, too embarrassed to say that he doesn’t know how to make his bed.
Sometimes we forget that our kids aren’t mini adults, and the things we ask of them just aren’t possible right now.
How to Get Your Kids to Listen
1. Stay calm. If you yell or start to get flustered, your child will get scared or angry. If that happens, nothing you say will get through to them. Their brains won’t be able to process it.
2. Connect with your child. Get their attention in a positive way. Instead of talking loudly across the room, walk over to them, get down to their level, and make eye contact. Touch their shoulders to get their attention if you need to.
3. Give positive directions. Tell them what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. This is especially important for kids 3 and under. They understand positive directions more easily as they haven’t fully grasped the meaning of “No” and “Don’t”. So for example, instead of saying “Don’t run”, tell them “Walk please”.
4. Offer choices. Offering choices gives our kids a sense of control. They’re much more likely to engage in the task we’re asking them to do if they feel more in control. The more you give choices when possible, the more they’ll go along with requests when it’s a situation where you can’t offer them a choice.
5. Physically guide. Nagging doesn’t work for anyone – kids or adults. If you nag your kids, they will learn to tune you out. They know we’ll just keep repeating ourselves until we get super loud and yell, and know we mean business.
Take a moment to get your kids’ full attention and make eye contact with them. Then tell them what you want them to do. I need you to clean up your superheroes now please.
If they still don’t do it, move to action by taking your child by the shoulders and walking them to whatever task it is you’re asking them to complete. Explain that when you ask them to do XYZ, you expect them to do XYZ right away. As you’re walking them to their superheroes on the floor, say “I expect you to clean up your superheroes when I ask you to.”
If they still don’t do what you’re asking them to, try offering a choice. You can put the good superheroes on the shelf first, or the bad superheroes on the shelf first.
And if that still does not work, give them a consequence and follow through with it. I need you to clean up your superheroes now, or I will have to put them away for the rest of the day.
6. Use “I” statements vs. “You” statements. Own what you feel. You, and you alone, are responsible for how you feel. It’s your choice. Your child cannot make you feel any sort of way. That’s on you.
Try telling your kids how you feel in a way that doesn’t bring down their self-esteem. In other words, don’t tell them that it’s their fault you feel angry or frustrated. Rather, tell them the action or scenario that causes you to feel that way.
Phrasing it this way keeps your child from feeling bad about themselves, but at the same time, they will probably still feel bad about what happened.
If you make it about them and they feel personally attacked, they are less likely to help and more likely to lash out or shut down.
You can also add the reason why something made you feel a certain way and let your child know what they are missing out on because of what happened. Here are some examples.
I feel upset when clothes are all over the floor.
I feel frustrated when no one is listening to me.
I feel sad when my favorite cups break because I can’t use them anymore. Now we have to find glue and put it back together instead of going outside to play.
How to Improve Your Child’s Listening Skills
1. Positive reinforcement. Notice and encourage your child when they behave in a way that you like. Give them attention for it.
We tend to give our kids lots of attention when they’re doing something they shouldn’t be, like jumping on the couch or writing on the walls. And then when they’re doing a nice job of occupying themselves, like reading a book or coloring, we don’t think to say anything.
Our kids are going to do more of whatever gets them more attention. So if they hear a lot of “No! Don’t do that! Stop!” and not enough of “Thanks for doing that! You’re sitting so nicely – that makes me so happy!”, they’re likely to do more of the things we don’t want them to.
Give more attention to the positive and our kids will do more of that.
2. Give warning for transitions. Would you want your spouse to just suddenly stand up at a party and announce “time to go wifey!”. You’d probably be shocked, confused, and annoyed.
A better way for your husband to go about it would be to pull you aside and say, “Hey, let’s head out in 10 minutes. It’s getting late, and I have to get up early tomorrow.” Then you’d be much more ok with leaving.
Same goes for your kiddos. Give them some notice before you switch things up on them.
Be sure to make eye contact with them, turn down any distractions (like the TV), and make sure you have their attention. Then give them the heads up. “Hey bud, we have to turn the TV off and and get our shoes on to leave in 5 minutes.” Give a second warning for younger kids, so with the TV example, give another warning at 2 minutes.
3. Ask for feedback. This lets you know that your kid heard and understands what you said.
For example, “When I say it’s time to go, what are you going to do?”. Hopefully your child will respond, “Turn off the TV and get my shoes on”. If they sort of just stare at you blankly, help them out – “Your going to turn off the TV and what else?”.
This will get easier the more you do it. Eventually you’ll be able to yell to your child from across the playground that it’s time to go in 5 minutes, and they’ll yell back, “ok!”. Sounds heavenly, right?!
4. Set clear and age appropriate rules. Set clear rules that your child understands and is aware of. Also, make sure they understand what will happen if they do not follow the rules, and be sure to actually do what you say you’re going to do if they don’t listen to the rules.
My 5 year old loves to play outside. Before he goes outside, I ask him “what are the rules for playing outside?” and he replies back proudly “Stay at the top of the driveway or the backyard. Don’t go up the high stairs.” And I say back “That’s right kiddo! And if you don’t listen to the rules, you’ll have to come inside for the rest of the day. Understood?” and he happily replies “ok!”.
He usually follows these rules, but not always. I absolutely dread when he breaks one of the rules because I then have to carry him inside kicking and screaming. But these instances do increase the amount of times he listens to the rules. It pays off in the long run.
5. Read and engage your child. Read to your kids and ask questions as you read. Why do you think Jasper is scared of the carrots? Or for younger kids, What color is the ball? You can also pick books that teach kids about listening, like Amelia Bedilia. Another fun book that helps with listening are the I Spy books.
6. Ask questions throughout the day. Ask your kids what they saw when they played outside, or what kind of snack they had at daycare. Get them used to hearing you and responding to you.
7. Ask about movies. Just like with books, you can ask questions during movies. Our sweet kiddos don’t get as annoyed with us as adults do when we ask questions during a movie!
For instance, while watching Secret Life of Pets the other day, I asked my son, “What’s the white bunny’s name again? I can’t remember!”.
8. Play games. Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and I Spy are all good games for improving listening skills. I play “Simon Says” with my toddler as I change his diaper and he loves it! This post provides some additional fun ideas for you try out.
Hang in There!
Hang in there, brave parent. Listening is a skill that needs to be learned and developed. It takes time and lots of practice for our kids to become the listeners we know they can be.
It’s our job to teach them and give them a safe place to practice. I know it’s frustrating, and there are times when you WILL lose your shit. That’s ok. The great thing about kids is that they’re naturally resilient and are ridiculously willing to give us many second chances.
If you consistently work with your child, you will see really positive progress over time! So in those moments when you feel your blood pressure rising, take a breath and imagine your child as a student in college intently listening to a lecture – all because of you! Then go ahead and run through the steps we talked about in this post.
Hit comment below and let me know how this solutions worked for you!