How To Get Your Child To Listen

little girl with pigtails with fingers in her ears

Every parent has been in this situation. You’re just trying to get through a simple task like lunch or getting ready for school and your child just won’t listen. You tell, ask, plead, negotiate, and sometimes even threaten, but the situation just escalates and everyone ends up in tears and having a bad time. Yikes!

Getting your children to listen might seem like magic, but there are actually some simple (and logical) techniques that will help you and your child understand one another better.

Why Don’t Kids Listen?

Like most disagreements, these situations usually arise as the result of a breakdown in communication. Children aren’t just little adults, and even though you might not remember it, being little comes with its own set of challenges. Children want to be respected, heard, and understood just as any other person would want to be, especially when they’re frustrated, interrupted, or asked to do something.

Why Listening Skills Are Important

The gut response to this question is often: “Because I need them to!” However, listening skills are important for many reasons that aren’t based solely on convenience for mom and dad. Developing good listening skills helps with speech, reading, socialization, and even a child’s ability to cope with the stressors in their everyday lives.

Getting Your Child To Listen

These days, a child’s attention is being fought for at every turn. Our kids are facing even more noise than we had growing up. Born with technology and media at their fingertips, getting your child to listen can seem like a monumental task. Being able to penetrate through all of that is a skill that will help keep everyone calm, happy, and cooperative.

Stay Calmbaby pinching father's cheek

This first step is often the hardest. When your child doesn’t do as you ask, it’s frustrating. It’s easy, especially if you’re crunched for time, to lose your cool. However, being able to stay calm during these kinds of situations will greatly improve your chances of being successful. Just like adults, when you yell at your child, they often go into “fight or flight” mode. When they’re frightened, stressed, or feel like they have to defend themselves (even if not physically), children’s ability to listen begins to degrade. After all, no one likes being fussed at.

Wait Until You Have Your Child’s Attention

While it may be convenient for you to yell from the kitchen, by doing this you’re not guaranteeing that you have your child’s attention. Instead, get on their level. Get in close and make light physical contact to remind your child that you’re there and want to engage with them. You might even consider making a connection by way of acknowledging what he or she is doing at the time. Making a comment about how great their coloring looks, or how silly those cartoon characters are being signals to your child that you acknowledge that they’re also doing something.

After you have their attention, make eye contact, and then make your request. You might be surprised by how receptive your child is to being asked calmly to do something.

Fewer Words Speak Volumes

One of the worst assumptions a parent can make is that their child isn’t capable. More often than not, children know what it is you want them to do but tend to tune us out when we drone on and on. So instead of giving a complex explanation of what it is you need them to do, try using fewer words.

For example, if you want your child to put on their shoes to get ready to leave the house, instead of saying “You need to put your shoes on so we can leave,” try simply saying “Shoes” as you’re going through your routine. This technique will take a couple of tries, but the simplest route is often the right one. And don’t worry---your child will ask if they need clarification.

Give Them A Choice

Everyone wants to make their own decisions and children are no different. The important thing to remember here is that you want to provide your child with choices that are reasonable to both you and your child. Setting ultimatums usually ends in tears, so give them small choices about their own actions that will get them to the decision you want them to make.

For instance, if you go to the beach and need to get everyone covered in sunscreen but your child is being fussy or uncooperative, try: “When you put on your sunscreen, you can go play in the water. Until then, you can sit with me under the umbrella.” This gives them the opportunity to make the choice for themselves, and more often than not, they’ll choose fun over fuss.

little boy look right

Inform, Don’t Scorn

No one likes it when someone barks orders at them, especially if they don’t understand why the command is being given. If your child is engaging in an action that is disruptive, change your language and tone from instructive to informative. This gives your little one the chance to exercise free will and make their own choice about why they’re complying.

If your child is constantly standing on the sofa, remind them: “Standing on the furniture makes it dirty and stinky.” This kind of language can be applied to a lot of different situations. Remember, the point of this technique is to give your child information about their actions and give them the opportunity to be considerate.

Listen and Understand

As we’ve discussed, children are intuitive and emotional but aren’t pint-sized adults. Learning to communicate is part of growing up, and sometimes they don’t always have the immediate words to explain what’s upsetting them. This is where we as adults need to take time to listen, observe, and understand what’s going on. If your child is having difficulty in a situation and is beginning to whine or work themselves up into a tantrum, take time to help them sort their feelings out.


  • You seem very frustrated right now.
  • Are you feeling sad?
  • You look very angry.

Helping your child put words to their feelings is surprisingly effective. Once you’ve helped them nail down what they’re feeling, you can help them work through what it would take to move back towards a positive solution. This employs several of the strategies we’ve talked about, including informing, decision making, and ensuring that you’re both understanding one another.

Our Pediatricians Are Great Listeners

Learning to communicate with your tiny human is something that most parents struggle with at one point or another. After all, there’s no manual for parenting. However, your Pediatrics East pediatrician is a wonderful resource when it comes to bridging the communication gap between you and your children. If you have questions, make an appointment and visit one of our convenient locations today!

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