How to get your child to listen to your request

Try these 7 steps to get your kids to listen without yelling or nagging.

Carla is having one of those mornings. She has a staff meeting at 8:30 a.m. and needs to drop off the kids at school on her way to the office. Her son, Jonah, is happily playing with his Legos while she makes breakfast.

“Jonah”, she calls from the kitchen, “It’s time to stop playing and come eat.” No response from Jonah, even though she can see him sitting on the living room floor not far away. “Jonah, come have your breakfast, ” she calls again. Jonah continues playing. “Jonah? Jonah!”

Now Carla is frustrated and her resolve to stay patient suddenly evaporates. She storms into the living room and stands over her son. “Jonah! What’s wrong with you—I said come here right now!”

If this scene sounds familiar to you, you’re in good company.

Feeling Ignored by Your Kids?

To teach your kids to listen the first time, you must help them cultivate the habit of paying attention to what you say. Part of creating this habit is paying attention to how you talk to them.

Why? Because if you tend to ask again and again (and again), and then either give up and do it yourself—or resort to yelling—you may be unintentionally teaching your kids that you can be ignored until you either give up (you didn’t really mean it) or you yell (now you mean it).

Yelling does get kids’ attention, but it’s problematic because it contributes to a dysfunctional pattern of communication. Research has also shown that yelling may have harmful effects on children comparable to physical punishment, such as hitting. Children whose parents are verbally aggressive also exhibit lower self-esteem, higher aggressiveness, and increased rates of depression.

What to Do Instead

Here’s a step by step guide to getting kids to listen the first time.

1. First, be sure your kids really hear you when you ask them to do (or not to do) something. Shouting across the house or up the stairs does not count.

For young kids, kneel down in front of them and make eye contact while making your request. A friendly touch on the arm, or some other positive physical connection is also helpful.

For older kids, aim for a minimum of eye contact and an acknowledgement that they heard you.

2. Realize they may not be ignoring you on purpose. Young children (especially those under age 14) are easily distracted and often don’t notice what is happening around them.

Research has shown that kids engaged in an activity, such as playing, reading, or gaming, often do not register other aspects of their surroundings. They lack what is called “peripheral awareness.”

This limited peripheral awareness may keep kids from registering what is happening around them—including a parent who is standing close by and talking to them—even when it appears that they couldn’t miss it.

So give your kids the benefit of the doubt when it seems that they are ignoring you. (See step one, above.)

3. Realize they may be ignoring you on purpose. Conversely, some kids will “test” their parents to see what will happen if they do ignore you.

This is important information for them, and a very normal part of development. Consider that you may have unintentionally taught them in the past that you can be ignored.

4. Once you’ve made sure they heard you (step one, above), ask them once and wait to see what happens.

If they follow through, great; you’re done. If not, ask one more time, and then add the following steps to your request:

5. Tell them why you are asking—that is, give them a reason to go with your request. This helps kids see your reasoning and shows them you are not being arbitrary. (Note: “Because I said so” is not a reason, and may lead to power struggles or secrecy.)

Help kids understand rules or requests that may seem arbitrary to them and, when relevant, show them the impact of their behavior on others. This step will not guarantee immediate compliance with your requests, but it will show your kids that your requests are reasonable and will also model the importance of using good reasons to motivate behavior.

For example: “Please go get your shoes on now. We have to leave in one minute or we’ll be late to pick up your friends. That would not be nice manners.”

6. Let natural consequences take their course, if possible. Natural consequences are those that follow without parents having to do anything, such as getting wet feet from wearing flip-flops instead of rain boots, or not having their clothes laundered because they left them on the bedroom floor (again).

Natural consequences are often the best teachers, except when they may create a health or safety risk. That said, many times the situation we find ourselves in with our kids has no natural consequence and so requires us to step in and actively do something, such as when our child is kicking the seat on an airplane, or speaking disrespectfully to us.

When natural consequences aren’t an option, go to step 7.

7. Give them fair warning of consequences—that is, what will happen if they don’t respond to your request.

For example: “We’re leaving the park in 5 minutes. If you don’t come with me when I tell you it’s time to go, then we won’t come back to the park tomorrow after school because your behavior is making it difficult to leave on time.”

Fair warning is critical because if children know in advance what the consequences will be for breaking a rule or ignoring a request, then they are making a choice about their behavior: whether they are going to follow the rule, or break the rule and bear the consequences. There are no surprises.

After you’ve repeated your request, and given your reasoning and fair warning of consequences, give kids a chance to respond. If they don’t do what you’ve asked, and it was a reasonable request, the next step is to follow through on the consequences you previewed for them.

This last step, if necessary, is essential, since it will show your kids that you mean what you say. Consistency is key.

Leave a comment below and share with other readers how this works in your family.

How to get your child to listen to your requestHi, Broken Record: Bet you’re hoarse, or maybe blue in the face, from telling your kiddo to do things over and over and over again. SHE DOESN’T LISTEN and it’s driving you crazy. You’ve yelled, you’ve begged, you’ve bargained, you’ve read books, but your sweetie still has incredibly selective hearing. Stop pulling your hair out and follow – be consistent! – these easy-to-implement solutions that will get your child to listen to you. Prepare to regain your voice and sanity!

•Get your child’s full attention: Before you ask anything of Timmy, make sure he’s in the same room, looking at you and not doing something else. He’s more likely to have selective hearing when he’s playing with his favourite toy. Get down to his level by sitting in a chair or kneeling on the floor, lock eyes and then start speaking.

•State your request simply: Trina will only half-listen to your long-winded rambles. To ensure your message isn’t lost, use the fewest words to tell her exactly what you want or need. Then have Trina recall what you said to confirm that she heard you loud and clear.

•Don’t repeat yourself: When the goal is to get your child to listen to you the first time, it’s important to only issue instructions once. Resist the urge to repeat your request, as doing so will teach Timmy that it’s cool to ignore you until he feels like paying attention. If he doesn’t listen when you say “come here” or “stop,” then go over to him and show him how to follow your instructions.

•Stay calm: It’s frustrating when Trina tunes you out. But try not to let your annoyance come through when you’re trying to get your child to listen. Shouting and tense body language ­­– things that convey negative feelings – make her uneasy and less likely to hear your message. Keep your tone, words and physical stance as neutral as possible.

Reinforce for good listening: Whenever Timmy listens the first time, make a big happy deal of it. Give him a lot of verbal praise, high-5s and hugs to let him know that he was a stellar listener. Positive reinforcement is the best way to shape consistently good behaviour.

•Take an if-then approach : Does Trina ignore you when you ask her to do something she doesn’t like? Pair that activity with something rewarding afterwards. For example, first she washes the dishes, then she gets to play video games for 20 minutes. But if she doesn’t soap up the spoons and plates, then no games for Trina. The key here is follow-through: Issue the reward immediately when it’s earned and withhold it if the contingent conditions aren’t met. Your child will quickly learn that it’s worth her while to listen and comply with your asks.

•Model good listening: Show Timmy what good listening looks like by being attentive when he talks. Have eye contact, keep your body still and nod or ask questions at appropriate times. Do this consistently and he’ll start copying your actions soon enough.

•Explain why: Using simple language, tell Trina why she needs to do what you ask of her (for example, to keep your teeth healthy, you have to brush them morning and night), so she understands the importance and realizes you’re not just a nag. She may be more motivated to listen to and follow your directions when she sees they’re of value to her.

Consistently implement these steps and your child should be a better listener before your know it. But if you need a little more guidance to get your child to listen to you, be in touch ; we’re here to help!

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Ann-Louise T. Lockhart, PsyD, ABPP, is a board-certified pediatric psychologist, parent coach, author, speaker, and owner of A New Day Pediatric Psychology, PLLC.

How to get your child to listen to your request

Stephanie Rausser / Getty Images

Much to the universal dismay of moms and dads, children often ignore requests and directions from their parents. While it’s possible that kids sometimes don’t hear what’s being communicated, oftentimes they purposefully ignore what they hear the first time. It is said they do this because they don’t want to oblige, are waging a form of protest, or are are attempting to continue a desired behavior.

While this may sort itself out as a child matures, there are steps you can take to set expectations for responsiveness and begin to curb this behavior. This starts with making some adjustments in how you ask your child to do what you say.


Repeating requests over and over—get up and brush your teeth, start your homework, clean up your room—is an energy burner and source of great frustration for many parents. In many cases, parents fall into a pattern of always making several requests of a child.

You might tell your son or daughter to do something, then tell them again 10 minutes later, and again 30 minutes later, only realizing at that point that they still haven’t done what you asked. When you have to ask your child to do something for what seems like the umpteenth time, frustration builds up and your reaction is not often a calm one. A simple request becomes a source of tension and conflict.

How to Get Your Child to Comply

Before you get too angry, it’s important to note that your child may not be ignoring you on purpose. Strategies to get your child to do what you ask the first time include the following:

Get Their Attention

Science has proven that when children become immersed in what they are doing, they don’t pay attention to what is going on around them. In fact, the research points out that kids under the age of 14 lack “peripheral awareness,” which means that if your child is focused on a toy, book, game, or TV show when you ask them to do something, their brain is tuned into that activity and not much more.

That means that, at the very least, you must make eye contact when you request that your child do something. It works best if you can go up to them, touch their arm or rest a hand on their shoulder, and get down to eye level. Encourage them to make eye contact with you in return and repeat what you have just asked them to do.

If you are busy in another room, ask your child to come to you before you make your request.

Change Your Approach

If you have approached your child as above and it still takes repeated nagging or begging on your part to get them to do as you say, then you may need a new game plan. Many children have developed several strategies to put things off as long as possible. Kids don’t quite understand the consequences of not doing undesirable tasks and are more motivated by what brings them joy, rather than what has to get done.

The fact of the matter is that most adults wouldn’t categorize these activities as fun either. So, children learn to distract parents by whining, bringing up something else to do at that moment, starting an argument, or just downright ignoring the request. To curb your child from stalling or ignoring you, you will need to put a little bit more time and attention in the way you approach the situation.

Be Patient

Breaking a child’s tendency to ignore you or resist cooperating when you say something the first time will take time and some practice on your part, but the results will be less frustration, anger, and stress for you, and hopefully more respect, compliance, and self-discipline from your child.

It’s best to start practicing these steps with a request that does not require you to leave the house soon afterward. At the beginning of the exercise, there may be tantrums and lengthy explanations, which all take some considerable time.

Set a Time Frame

Decide in your own mind what you want the child to do and the time frame you will accept for their compliance (immediately, within 15 minutes, etc.) Check in with yourself about the reason behind your choices and whether that actually matches your request.

Be Specific

Don’t phrase your request as a question. Tell them specifically what you want them to do in a direct way. For example, rather than asking, “Can you please go brush your teeth now?” say, “Please go brush your teeth right now so you can get to bed on time.”

Watch for Compliance

It’s easy to give an instruction and pivot back to what you were doing beforehand. At the beginning of this practice, avoid doing so. Check immediately to see if what you requested was done. That way, your child has accountability and knows you are serious about them complying with the request.

Check for Understanding

If they don’t begin doing what you asked or don’t complete the task, calmly ask them “What did I ask you to do?” Make sure the child is clear about what is expected. If they can correctly tell you, say, “That’s good, now please get to it.”

Praise Success

If your child does what you asked, tell them what a good job they did and how much you appreciate them taking action. It’s easy to forget to do this, but remembering to reinforce the compliance with praise can go a long way in reinforcing this behavior.

Give Fair Warning

If they don’t do what you asked after the first or second request, then it’s time to explain why you are asking them to do that specific task and what the consequences are if they don’t comply. Just repeating “because I said so” is not effective and may lead to other issues with compliance.

If possible, show your child the actual impact of their behavior so that they know that your requests are not arbitrary. An example of this is to let your child know that if they don’t do something you have requested, it affects others.

For example: “Please go brush your teeth right now. Bedtime is in 15 minutes. If you don’t brush your teeth right now, there won’t be any time left to read a story tonight. Daddy really looks forward to reading with you before bed and I know you enjoy reading with him, too.”

Be Consistent and Follow Through

If your reasonable request is followed up by more defiance and temper tantrums, then it is time to follow through with the consequence you have set. Be firm and keep at it. Consistency with this step is key to letting your child know that you are serious when you make a request the first time.

These steps may seem ineffective the first several times you employ them but stick with it. Eventually, both of you will get used to the method. You will get better at phrasing your requests firmly and purposefully the first time, and your child will come to understand that you do not ask arbitrary or unreasonable requests of them.

If your kid is constantly ignoring you, we have ways to get her attention.

Make your point without driving yourself crazy.

Remember that adorable chatty child who not long ago hung lovingly on your every word and considered you her number-one pal and confidant? Now she often seems like a glassy-eyed pre-tween who’s turned ignoring you into an art form and transformed even the simplest request (“Please turn off the TV” or “Put your socks in the hamper”) into an exercise in mind-numbing repetition.

Your child isn’t deliberately trying to drive you insane (successful though she may be), and her maddening new behavior has more to do with her sense of self than how she feels about you. Seven- and 8-year-olds are experiencing an increasing sense of control over their own lives, and they’re focusing more than ever before on the outside world and the interesting things going on there, like school, friends, fads, and sports, says Mary Rourke, Ph.D., director of school psychology at Widener University’s Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology, in Chester, Pennsylvania. Their selective deafness is one way of testing the limits of their growing independence.

It’s also a method of dealing with new pressures and responsibilities. “Kids this age spend most of the school day following instructions,” says Carla Fick, Psy.D., a child psychologist and clinical director of the nonprofit Smart Love Family Services, in Chicago. “School is more demanding, so they have fewer opportunities to zone out, de-stress, and exercise their own choices.” Because they feel safest at home, it’s the place they’re most likely to assert themselves and take the time they need to chill out. Often, the way they do that is by acting as if their parents have faded into the furniture. However, you can regain your child’s ear without losing your voice or your cool just by listening to our advice — no bullhorn necessary.

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Get some perspective.

Yelling to get your kid’s attention won’t do either of you much good. “Instead, take a step back and recognize that your child isn’t purposely trying to undermine you — he’s just acting his age,” says Joseph Shrand, M.D., an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Then, work on a better strategy. When Marianna Carnovale, of Nutley, New Jersey, has something important to tell her 7-year-old son, Christopher, she’ll avoid the times when he’s glued to the TV or a video game. She also asks him to repeat her instructions, a tactic that helps him remember what he needs to do.

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Make your presence known.

As you’re well aware, it’s surprisingly easy for your 7- or 8-year-old to ignore what you say. But it’s a lot harder for her to block you out in other ways. “Sometimes a simple tap on the shoulder will snap her out of it, or you may have to physically place yourself between her and whatever she’s focused on,” says Mark Sharp, Ph.D., a psychologist in Oak Brook, Illinois. A little drama or humor doesn’t hurt, either. When 8-year-old Carly is lost in a world of her own, her mom, Lonnie Lane, goes for a laugh. “My strategy is to say something completely off-topic, outlandish, and silly, like ‘Hey, chicken lips!’ ” says the Portland, Oregon, mom.

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Avoid the echo.

Calling your child’s name over and over again will just get you a sore throat. As will the infinite repeating of “clear your stuff off the table; dinner’s almost ready.” Sit him down and let him know that you’re willing to remind him of your request once, but he’ll have to deal with the consequences if he doesn’t respond after that. For example, you could say, “I’m happy to ask you once to put on your shoes, but after that, I’m walking out to the car without you.” Another option is to use a kitchen timer, suggests Dr. Shrand. Tell your child, “We’re going to set this for three minutes, and then you need to stop watching TV and put your clothes away.” Reinforce the three-minute warning with a reward: “After you put your clothes away, you can use the computer for 15 minutes before bedtime.” If he still doesn’t pay attention, the next step might be to take away TV until he’s come up with his own plan for being a better listener.

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Choose the message.

Before you get yourself embroiled in a battle of wills, make sure you’re concentrating on the things that really matter. Seven-year-old Bodhi Menice, of Corrales, New Mexico, has a talent for ignoring his mother, Danielle, when she asks him to do something he’d rather not do. So she weighs the importance of her requests. “If it’s something essential, like setting the table before we sit down for dinner, then I’ll make sure he gets it done,” she says. If not, she’ll either let it go or wait until later. “Because kids this age often feel overwhelmed, they’re more likely to listen and cooperate if they feel that parents are only asking them to do the really important things,” says Dr. Fick. Critical tasks like homework and family chores can take precedence over smaller issues that pop up during the day, like a pair of sneakers kicked off in the hallway or a candy wrapper that’s fallen shy of the trash can.

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Listen to your child.

Sometimes, kids don’t pay attention because they feel like no one’s paying attention to them. “Parents are often so busy themselves that they don’t always focus on things they consider to be insignificant, but those may be the very things that matter most to a child,” says Dr. Fick. Harry Potter may be the last person you want to discuss at the end of a rough day, but what’s going on at Hogwarts could be as important to her as her unfinished homework is to you. When kids feel cared about, understood, and respected by you, they’re a lot more likely to hear what you have to say.

Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Parents magazine.

Stop repeating yourself. Your child will be all ears once you start following these clever, attention-getting tips from the pros.

Ever notice how your child’s bionic ears pick up every word of your “private” conversations, yet when you really need him to listen it’s like he’s switched off his hearing? “Between school and home, kids this age commonly grow tired of paying attention and decide they need to tune out,” says Doreen Miller, a parent educator at the Institute for Parenting at Adelphi University, in Garden City, New York. But you need your kid to listen, so tailor the way you’re delivering the message to prevent a communication failure. Try these tips to break your child’s sound-free barrier.

Avoid Information Overload

Your child’s brain can only process so much. Hit her with too many details — “Turn off the TV, then go upstairs, get changed, brush your teeth, and comb your hair” — and she won’t be able to recall anything past step one or two. Be too vague — “Get ready for bed” — and she won’t take your request seriously, or chances are she’ll probably skip a couple of steps. Instead, split your request into two parts, suggests Miller. Start with something like, “When Arthur is over, it’s time to turn off the TV and get ready for bed.” Then once the TV is off, continue with, “Okay, honey, pj’s and toothbrushing are next. Do you want to skip or hop into the bathroom?”

Be Direct

When you dwell on a topic for too long, your child will tune out. For instance, if you say, “Honey, we’re meeting Julius in the park and you’ll want to climb at the playground. So you have to change out of your sandals before we leave home,” it’s unlikely that he’ll change into appropriate shoes. Instead, be concise and make the request up front: “Honey, put on your sneakers now because we’re going to the playground.”

Work on Your Delivery

Your child will listen better if you engage more than just her sense of hearing. A visual approach (looking her in the eye) combined with a tactile one (placing your hands on her shoulders) can help her focus better on what you’re saying, says Margret Nickels, Ph.D., director of the Center for Children and Families at the Erikson Institute, in Chicago. When Gractia Manning, of Dayton, Ohio, wants to make sure her 6-year-old daughter, Kate, is listening, she’ll ask her to repeat what she heard. “In the past, if I said ?There’s no eating in the family room while the babysitter’s here,’ Kate would say okay and then later — after she’d broken the rule — claim that she never heard me say that,” explains Manning.

Don’t Sound Like a Broken Record

If you feel like you’re saying the same things over and over, stop. Kids can become conditioned to wait to respond until you’ve said something for the fifth time. “Your words become nothing but background noise,” says Dr. Nickels. Besides, your child’s teacher doesn’t spend all day repeating herself, so why should you? Your kid will be more inclined to do what’s asked of him if he understands that his actions have clear, enforceable consequences. Give him specific instructions no more than twice, and be sure to follow through with appropriate disciplinary actions if he doesn’t comply. For instance, to get don’t sound your child to pick up his Legos you might say, “Jake, please go upstairs and put your Lego pieces in the blue bin.” If he doesn’t listen to you, warn him that he won’t be able to play with the Legos for the rest of the day if he doesn’t clean up, says Dr. Nickels. If he still blows off your request, take away the Legos. On the flip side, acknowledge when he follows directions the first time. Saying “Thanks for being a good listener” will reinforce his desire to pay attention.

Make Listening a Game

Your child spends a significant portion of her day being talked to — and that’s tiresome. Sometimes little ears need to tune in to some fun. Fine-tune your child’s listening skills by exposing her to a variety of auditory experiences. Take a walk together and listen for sounds like birds or insects, the wind in the trees, and the crunching of grass. Groove to kid-friendly tunes on your iPod and discuss what they mean.

Getting kids to listen often depends on what and how we ask.

Posted Mar 29, 2014

How to get your child to listen to your request

“My kid doesn’t listen!” This common parent complaint is filled with frustration! It’s aggravating to feel ignored. It’s hard not to take it personally…to conclude that our child doesn’t respect us. It’s also tempting to raise the volume of our requests or resort to threats.

But the answer to being heard may be to make it easier for our children to listen. Here are some ideas of how about do this:

1) Pick your moment If you want your child to put her dishes in the dishwasher, it’s easier for her to listen if you ask as soon as she stands up from the dinner table, rather than waiting until she has walked away and is relaxing on the couch. Your request that your child clean up his room is more likely to get a positive response if you don’t ask before he’s is in the middle of an exciting videogame. You also want to avoid making challenging requests when your child is tired, hungry, or emotionally distraught.

2) Have reasonable expectations Here’s a situation that comes up a lot in my practice. Parents tell me, “Every night we tell our child to get ready for bed. Then we go upstairs to check on him 45 minutes later, and she’s taken off one sock.” If this happens every night, clearly this approach to getting ready for bed isn’t working! It doesn’t matter if most kids this age can get ready for bed without supervision. It doesn’t matter if we believe children this age ought to be able to get ready for bed unsupervised. We have to deal with the child in front of us. This plan isn’t working for this child at this time. So, we need to try something else. Reasonable expectations reflect what the child is currently doing or just a bit beyond that.

3) Get their attention If you have to ask your child 14 times before she listens, then you’re training him to ignore you 13 out of 14 of your requests. Don’t just call across the room ineffectually. Walk over, make eye contact, put your hand gently on your child’s shoulder, then make your request and stand there, calmly and confidently, until your child moves in the right direction. Also be careful not to overload your child with too many instructions at once. With some children, you may need to have them repeat the instructions. “So, what is it you need to do when we get home?”

4) Focus on action Tell your child what he should do; not what he shouldn’t. If you ask a child to stop bouncing a basketball, chances are that child will bounce it three more times—not because he’s trying to be defiant, but because kids aren’t wired to stop on a dime. Redirection is easier than stopping. For instance, instead of saying, “Stop bouncing the ball,” you can tell your child, “Do five more bounces, then put the ball in the box in the garage.” When it’s time to leave the playground, instead of saying, “Time to go!”, you can tell your child, “Do your last thing, then we need to walk home.”

5) Make it fun Kids love to laugh, and you don’t have to be a great comedian to get them going. Just do something silly or unexpected. Sing a song. Talk with an accent. Pretend a sock or an oven mitt is a puppet giving the instructions. Make your request into a game. Kids-against-the-grown-up(s) contests are often fun. For example, you could ask, “Can you get in your jammies before Mommy changes out of her work clothes?”

6) Do it together It’s easier for kids to do frustrating or unpleasant tasks if they have company. This also gets around the classic kid objection: “No fair! Why do I have to do it?”

7) Use when-then statements Instead of resorting to threats, make a simple when-then statement. “When you’re done with your piano practice, then you can invite your friend over.” “When your homework is finished, then you can go play outside.” “When your toys are picked up, then we can go to the park.” This type of when-then statements shows that your child is in control of when a positive outcome occurs. You can also use when-then statements to use certain events to trigger a desired response. “When this show is over, then you need to head upstairs for a shower.” “When you finish your cereal, then you need to brush your teeth.”

8) Offer a choice No one likes to feel controlled—including children. Giving your child two different options that are equally acceptable to you, makes it easier for your child to comply. Giving more than two options tends to be overwhelming. Just ask your child some version of these questions: This or that? Now or then? Me or you?

9) Establish routines It’s easier for kids to comply when they know what to expect. You can help reinforce these routines by stating an impersonal “law of the universe,” that describes how things work in your home. “Coats belong in the closet.” “8 pm means bedtime.” These types of statements are less likely to make your child feel personally “persecuted” by your request.

10) Say please and thank you Barking a harsh order will lead to more resistance than making a polite request in a pleasant voice. Too often, we use our best manners with strangers and don’t make the effort to be kind and civil with our families. Modeling good manners also makes it more likely that your child will speak politely to you.

© Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD. Google+

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, is an author and clinical psychologist in Princeton, NJ (lic. # 35SI00425400). She frequently speaks at schools and conferences about parenting and children’s social and emotional development.

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How to get your child to listen to your request

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I can’t tell you how often I feel my requests to my children are falling on deaf ears! It’s true, children are not always the best listeners – in fact, my almost-three year old regularly tunes me out! It mostly happens when she is concentrating intently on something or absorbed in an activity, whether it be a game she is playing, a book she is ‘reading’ or a program she is watching on TV, but then there are those particularly frustrating times when she just doesn’t want to hear (or respond to) what I say. And her seven year old sister…yep, she does it to!

Listening is important to both academic success and social interaction (not to mention parental sanity!) Fortunately there are simple ways to encourage your child to listen to what you have to say. However, as simple as they may be, I find a regular reminder doesn’t hurt, as I can tell you that these simple actions don’t always come immediately to mind when I am in the middle of a particularly frustrating encounter of the child-parent non-listening kind! So if you are anything like me, a regular reminder of the small tips that make parenting easier can only be a good thing!

How to get your child to listen to your request

10 Ways to Get Kids to Listen

1. Get in close
My girls simply do not tune in to what I am saying if I am bellowing from another room, or often even if I am speaking across the same room. The #1 way I can increase the likelihood that what I say will be heard is to get in close, connecting face to face, eyeball to eyeball, to share my message. Plus looking directly at each other helps your child to tune in to your non-verbal communication cues.

2. Keep it short and simple
Keeping instructions, questions or statements short and simple is much more effective than an unnecessarily long winded discourse. Say what you need to say in the shortest way possible.

3. Say what you want to see
…not what you don’t! Phrasing instructions more positively, “Time to hold hands to cross the road” versus “Don’t run on the road,” places the action that you WANT to happen more firmly in your child’s conscious, rather than the action that you DON’T WANT to see.

4. Provide simple choices
Older toddlers and preschoolers are developing a greater sense of independence, and separateness from you, so providing them with simple choices helps them to feel like they have an element of control in the situation. You can read more about how I do choices here.

5. Speak quietly
When your child is not responding to your request, try reducing the volume of your voice rather than increasing it in frustration. This often acts to pique your child’s curiosity and, as whispering secrets is such great fun, it can also be an effective way of encouraging participation.

6. Sing for your sanity
You can always try singing your instructions! After all, preschool teachers have been using this one for years! Like speaking quietly, singing can engage your children, plus it makes tasks such as packing away good fun. One of my daughters does not enjoy having her hair washed at all but it is amazing the difference it makes if we are raucously singing and laughing as we do it. A simple “This is the way we wash our hair,” to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is usually all it takes.

7. Wait until they’re calm
There is little point trying to make your point when your child is in the grip of intense emotions. Wait until they’re calm and then help them come back to a point where they can attend to what you are saying more effectively. You can find some great ideas for helping children to manage big emotions here.

8. Pause
Sometimes shutting children down because you just don’t have the time or patience for a negotiation can be counter-productive because the resulting battle when they don’t feel heard will take longer than listening to their input in the first place. Taking a moment to pause and listen to your child’s thoughts, even when you know it can’t or won’t change the outcome of your request, helps to make your child feel like a considered part of the conversation. And we all know how important it is to keep those lines of communication open.

9. Preempt problems
Your child is much more likely to listen and respond positively when they are not hungry, overtired or overwhelmed. Be realistic about your expectations for behaviour and listening when your children have the hangries (hungry-angries!), when they are tired or when they are out of routine. You can click through via these links to find out more about proactively avoiding tantrums with toddlers and bigger kids.

10. Provide your child with tools to succeed
Family routines and habits, and aids to those routines like our printable routine cards and weekly routine chart, help you to eliminate nagging and help your child to learn responsibility. Saying, “What do you need to pack for school today? Let’s check your chart” is much more pleasant and effective than nagging them to put their music book in their bag. Think about the routines and habits you would like to develop with your child and then look for tools to support them in becoming more independent and responsible for getting those things done each day.

Remember effective listening can help your child become a better student, a great friend, and will hopefully also help to improve family harmony – reducing the number of requests falling on deaf ears! Good luck!

What tips do you have for encouraging your child to listen?

Christie Burnett is an early childhood teacher, presenter, writer and the editor of Childhood 101. More importantly, she is a Mum who believes wholeheartedly in the value of children learning through play, the importance of quality early education, and the togetherness of family.

Last Updated: September 9, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Wits End Parenting. Wits End Parenting is a parent-coaching practice based in Berkeley, California specializing in strong-willed, “spirited” children with impulsivity, emotional volatility, difficulty “listening,” defiance, and aggression. Wits End Parenting’s counselors incorporate positive discipline that is tailored to each child’s temperament while also providing long-term results, freeing parents from the need to continually re-invent their discipline strategies.

There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 5,567 times.

Do you feel like you have to repeat yourself three, four, or five times for your kid to listen to you? While it can be frustrating to deal with kids who don’t follow your instructions, stay calm and avoid taking it personally. Kids need clear routines in order to understand rules and boundaries. Be consistent and simplify your words when you’re trying to get your point across. Take action when they disregard your instructions before you’re already at wits end.

How to get your child to listen to your request

How to get your child to listen to your request

Wits End Parenting
Parenting Specialists Expert Interview. 5 March 2020.

  • For example, if your child continues to forget brushing his teeth before bed, try to get the kid to repeat back what the expectations are for a bedtime routine. Ask them, “What else do you need to do before getting ready for bed? Let’s review your schedule.”
  • If you are strict sometimes and very lax in others, kids may become confused about expectations of what they need to do and when. Focus on consistency throughout.

How to get your child to listen to your request

How to get your child to listen to your request

How to get your child to listen to your request

How to get your child to listen to your request

Wits End Parenting
Parenting Specialists Expert Interview. 5 March 2020.

  • Don’t let your anger or frustration impact when or how you set consequences. Make them fair and understandable to kids.
  • For example, if it’s time for them to get ready for bed, and they are still up watching TV. Make it clear that after you have repeated the request for them to get ready for bed twice, they will lose TV privileges for the rest of the week if they don’t follow your orders.
  • Make sure to stick to this consequences and talk with your spouse or other children to make sure that the consequences are followed. Have a conversation with your partner about raising your kids and setting rules and expectations for them. This will help to ensure that you are both on the same page.

How to get your child to listen to your request

How to get your child to listen to your request

Wits End Parenting
Parenting Specialists Expert Interview. 5 March 2020.

  • Understand that inappropriate or disrespectful behavior by your kids isn’t about you. It’s about them.
  • Focus your energy on what behaviors you’d like to see changed, both in your kids and yourself. Avoid focusing on changing their emotions or attitude, and instead address their behaviors. Do your best to educate your children about reflecting on their emotions instead of immediately reacting to them. Teach them to identify how they are feeling and why before responding to their feelings.
  • For example, if you’re asking them to put away toys, and you become more annoyed as you ask them repeatedly, they may have an outburst of anger. Focus more on the behavior of putting away toys, rather than the end result of an outburst. Giving attention to an outburst, even if it is negative attention, will only reinforce the outburst.

How to get your child to listen to your request

Do you feel like a broken record — repeating the same instruction to your child over and over? Not sure whether to book them a hearing test or sign yourself into the looney bin?

How can you get your child to listen to you the first time you ask them to do something?

I used to go nuts over my boys’ inability to hear me. I got louder and louder until I’d morphed into a crazed chronic shout-aholic. Things got really out of control.

Of course I blamed everything on my kids, but once I began to turn inwards and look at my own role in it all, I had a change of heart.

I began to take care of myself better and it allowed me to think more clearly before reacting. I enrolled in a wonderful parenting skills class which transformed our family life in just a few weeks.

I’ve finally cracked the secret to getting my kids to listen to me the first time I say something. Want in on it? Here it is:

Kids have selective hearing. They tune out the sound of your voice unless it’s something they want to hear. You may have noticed husbands suffer this same affliction.

So, what do we do? We repeat.

“Jack, I told you to put on your shoes. We’re leaving now.”

And we repeat ourselves again, louder and more annoyed. And again, this time with exasperation, then anger.

We’ve inadvertently trained our child to only really pay attention once we’ve said it a few times or have begun shouting.

To gain better cooperation with your child, you’re going to have to change your own behavior first.

Gulp. This was a hard pill for me to swallow too.

We want to blame them and make them be the ones to change, but the change begins with us.

We need to stop taking it personally when they ignore us and that’s easier to do when you accept that it’s not about you. Kids need to learn how act and the best way to teach them is by example, not getting mad at them.

Has your kid ever wanted your attention and you’ve said, “Yeah, in a minute,” and then a minute goes by and you’re annoyed that they’ve already asked again? We’re being hypocrites by expecting them to listen to us, but not vice-versa.

So, here’s what you need to do to get your child to start listening to you the first time:

How to get your child to listen to your request

1. Sit down and have a chat.
Lovingly explain that you’re no longer going to shout or repeat and from now on when you ask them to do something, they’ll need to do it. Without blaming them, try to describe how you feel when they don’t listen. Tell them how happy you’ll feel when you don’t have to repeat or shout to be heard.

2. Write it down as a rule.
When it’s there in black and white you can point to the rule, rather than saying it all over again. Reward them with positive feedback each time they cooperate. Remember that the rule applies to you too. Just as you’re expecting your child to form a new habit of listening to you, it will also be a challenge for you to form a new habit in giving instructions. (See steps 3 and 4 below.) You’ll also need to model the behavior you want to see by listening to them when they need you. It’s a two way deal.

3. Give your instruction in a firm, but warm tone.
Don’t reserve your most sarcastic, exasperated, shouty voice for your family. When you use a nice tone, you’ll not only get better cooperation, but you’ll feel better doing it. I used to put a sticky note up saying: Tone of voice.

4. Get into their space.
If you’re in the habit of barking orders from one room to another, this will be a new challenge for you, but worth the effort. Go to them. Engage them. Get them to look at you. Have them repeat the request back to you.

“Olivia, what have I asked you to do now?’

“Stop playing and get undressed for my bath?”

“Yes. Thank you for listening to me the first time. See you in the bathroom!”

5. See it from your child’s point of view.
This is not a dictatorship where your child must always drop whatever they’re doing the second you say it. Here’s a little mantra I love by parenting expert Bonnie Harris:

‘My child’s agenda is just as important to them as my agenda is to me.’

It’s hard to validate that your child feels it’s just as important to finish his video game as you feel it’s important he comes to eat the meal you’ve just prepared. But imagine if you were in the middle of a great TV show and your husband suddenly burst in and ordered you to look at some tax papers NOW. Would you immediately switch it off and gleefully skip to the next room with him? Or would you feel annoyed and pissed off or try to worm your way out of it?

So, knowing that dinner’s nearly ready, give your child the heads up that in five minutes they’ll need to come to the table.

Don’t shout this out from the kitchen. Stop what you’re doing and go to them. Make eye contact and tell them in person. If your child is engrossed in something, take a moment before giving your instruction to engage with them about what they’re doing.

“What are you watching, Jake?”

“This really cool show about cars.”

“Wow, that really does look cool. Look at that red one! Now Jake, look at me for a minute. Thank you. In five minutes your dinner is ready. You can press record on that if you want and then you need to wash your hands straight away and come to the table.”

“What do you need to do now?”

“Record this and wash my hands.”

“Good, yes. And then come to the table. Thanks for listening, Jake. See you at the table in 5!”

It feels like it will take a long time to stop what you’re doing to go to your child, engage them, give the instruction and have it repeated back, but let’s compare this to shouting the instruction from another room several times.

By the time he comes to the table you’re peeved that you had to repeat and yell, he’s upset that he had to stop watching his show and now everyone’s in a bad mood. He may act out during his meal and then you have yet another battle on your hands.

By taking just a minute to give the instruction politely, in person, you’ll both feel happier and more relaxed.

Always remember to give positive feedback every time they listen to you the first time.

“I really love how you came to the table the first time I asked you. Thank you!”

If you find yourself slipping back into repeating yourself, start over again.

Remember new habits take time. If you or your child slip up, take a deep breath, see it as a mistake, be forgiving — then try, try again!

Whenever I’m complimented on how well my boys listen to me, I smile. It isn’t always easy and we still have our moments, but I wouldn’t go back to the way things were for anything.