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How do I get my child to listen to me?

Credit: Jonas Mohamadi on Pexels

This scene with my son plays out in our kitchen several times a week and I’m pretty sure similar ones play out across the globe.

“Jake, no footballs in the kitchen”. (No reply).

15 seconds later. “Jake, please take the ball outside”. (Still no reply).

10 seconds later. “Jake, what were you asked to do?” (No reply, of course).

Five seconds later. “Jake, how many times do I have to ask you?

“Get the ball out of the kitchen or I’m going to take it away for a week! You know the rule about balls in here.

“It’s not hard to go somewhere else to play… (general exclamation and flying off the handle) …

Why can’t you just listen to me?”


It’s extraordinary how a simple reminder to our child that balls aren’t allowed in the kitchen or it’s time to do their homework can rapidly descend into a shouting, stomping affair (and I don’t mean on the part of the child).

When our children don’t listen to us, the situation can easily escalate out of proportion, and we wonder how such a simple request became a big deal. Surely there’s a way to be heard without the nagging, raised voices and simmering blood pressure?

What’s really happening? 

When we complain that our children don’t listen to us, we usually mean they won’t do what we’ve asked them to. I don’t take it well when my boys don’t do as I’ve asked. I feel frustrated and disrespected.

But, when I questioned myself – Are my boys really disrespecting me when they don’t listen? I had to conclude, no they’re not.

Usually, it’s just that they’re engrossed in what they’re doing or they don’t agree with me. I considered some recent examples of times when I asked my sons to do things with no visible effect.

He doesn’t agree that he should turn the TV off to leave for school – he wants to see how the episode ends.

He doesn’t agree that he should wear tidier clothes to our special family lunch – he likes this T-shirt.

He doesn’t agree that he should come and set the table now – there’s playing to be done and setting the table is such a drag.

When I remember my boys aren’t meaning to disrespect me, it diffuses my emotion. Knowing their lack of response isn’t personal helps me to handle the situation more calmly. I can acknowledge my boys have their concerns and opinions that deserve respect.

As inconvenient as it is, they need to have a say in their lives. So, I need to properly consider their point of view before deciding whether to insist on what I’ve asked for.

Five steps to help your children listen

How we approach things depends on the scenario and the age of our children. But here are five general steps for increasing the chances of having them listen to us:

One – Get their attention

Often, I can’t be bothered trudging upstairs to my boys’ bedrooms so I holler instructions up to them from the kitchen as I chop the onions. Then I wait for the response – none.

The key is to get our child’s eye-contact before telling them what we want them to do so we know they’re engaged. This may require us to make the effort to go up the stairs and get them to put down distractions (such as toys or screens) to get our child’s attention.

Two – Insist on a verbal response

When our children reply, they’re acknowledging that they’ve heard us. Often, just an “ok” is sufficient. Sometimes, they need to tell us more.

If they’ve responded, they can’t deny having heard us or understood our message. And, call me old-fashioned, but it’s just good manners to respond when spoken to.

Three – Give them an opportunity to share their point of view

If they disagree with us, our children need to be able to say so. It’s a valuable life skill to be able to express a point of view that differs from someone else’s and they need the chance to practice.

We can show them that disagreement doesn’t have to become an argument. If they do start arguing back, I tell my boys, “You can tell me what you have to say but do it respectfully”.

Four – Explain our reasons for what we’ve asked them to do

Sharing our reasons (in an age-appropriate way) shows our child that we’re not being arbitrary or simply pleasing ourselves. They may even agree with us in the end.

My son doesn’t like being late to school so, if I point out that he’ll be late if he doesn’t turn the TV off now, he’s usually willing to cooperate.

Five – Use the sliding scale of insistence

When I’ve considered my son’s point of view, explained mine and still want him to do as asked, I begin lightly, with the assumption that he’ll now do as asked.

I might simply say, “So, come and set the table now please”. If he doesn’t, I gradually up the stakes – “If you don’t come and set the table now, I’ll have to hold on to that Lego until it’s done because the Lego’s distracting you from doing your job” etc.

I try to use natural consequences as much as possible so as not to be manipulative.

This five-step process might sound convoluted when you just want your kids to stop jumping on the couch. In some situations, you’ll zip through these steps in just a minute or two. But it’s helpful to have the structure in place, practiced for when there are larger issues to be resolved.

My son has told me a few times that I’m “always right” which I like to jokingly remind him of from time to time. But, when I consider his perspective, I believe that I am doing the right thing. Because he feels listened to, it’s easier for him to listen.

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You can find out more about Julie on her blog Untangling Motherhood


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