You’re embarrassed to admit it, but it takes several tries to get your child to listen. Discover effective techniques on teaching children to listen even the first time.
Tonight was rough. One kid kept pulling the blinds even though he knew he shouldn’t. Another wouldn’t clean up his toys, even though I’ve asked him nicely to do so. All three were taking turns acting grouchy, crying, or whining.
Teaching children to listen
Getting kids to listen involves parents as much as them. When I’m testy, they antagonize. When I’m removed, so are they. And when I’m calm and matter-of-fact, they’re quick to listen.
Here are the best ways I’ve found on teaching children to listen:
1. Don’t “ask” the instruction
Maybe you’ve pleaded with your kids, whether it’s to take a bath, to behave or to finish some chore. More than likely, your child shrugged it off and tuned you out.
So… don’t do that. When you say it’s time to take a bath, make sure you’re not ignored or met with silence. Don’t let them continue to play with video games or tinker with toys.
Avoid negotiation when you can’t. Sometimes we can pick our battles and meet them halfway. For others, we need to stand our ground.
The same holds true for nagging. I try not to “ask” my son to do something (“Can you put on your shoes?”). Instead I state them in unavoidable terms (“Let’s put on your shoes.”).
2. Use positive language
Use positive language when you speak to your kids. This means phrasing your words in something your child can do, not something he can’t. It’s the difference between “Walk in the garage” and “Don’t run in the garage.”
Better yet, praise kids with positive language when you catch them doing good. In my example, let’s say my kid isn’t running in the garage. I can praise him and say, “Look at you walking!” instead of “Don’t you even think about running.”
Kids respond better to positive language because no one likes being told what not to do. Plus, they also believe they can behave and do well. When we say things like, “Don’t you even think about…” we don’t show faith that they could handle these instructions.
3. Offer choices with the instructions
Kids can feel small in our Big People World. Adults decide everything for them: When to go to school, what they should eat, where they can play.
One of the simplest tips on how to get your child to listen is to offer him choices. My son has to get dressed for the day, so the question isn’t whether he should get dressed or not. And he doesn’t have a choice in picking anything out. I wouldn’t want him to pick a t-shirt and shorts when it’s “cold” outside. (In quotations because “cold” in LA is 60 degrees. Yes, we are winter wusses.)
Instead, I offer a choice between two options I’m comfortable with. “Which sweater would you like to wear— blue or green?” Offering choices gives him a voice when he feels he has none and more complicit to go along.
But offer choices only when needed. When choices are the norm and not the exception, kids expect them even when they shouldn’t. And try to limit your options—any more and kids might suffer from choice overload.
4. Don’t give empty threats
Saying empty threats or wild statements makes your authority weak. “If you don’t pick up your toys, I’m going to throw them all out!” bears little weight when the story seems so outrageous. (Unless, of course, you actually follow through with it.)
We also resort to unfair generalizations. We tell our kids, “You never listen to what I say,” or “You always misbehave.” These phrase not only label the child instead of the action, they’re also not true.
5. Make eye contact and speak firmly and calmly
Want to know whether your kid is listening to begin with? Make eye contact. When we’re forced to lock gazes, we’re more likely to listen than multi-task. Kneel to their level if need be.
And change our voice to a firm but calm tone. Here’s where pleading and asking also don’t work: Kids need to know we’re serious. Reserve your firm, low voice for Important Stuff and they’ll know you’re serious.
We also need to keep our voice calm—no yelling. If we’re freaking out and yelling at them, that only makes them yell or continue to misbehave.
6. Talk after the tantrum has finished
Kids are past the point of logic once they’ve begun a tantrum, say Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson in The Whole-Brain Child (affiliate link). It’s like how we go bonkers during road rage—no point talking to us during one of those episodes.
Instead, wait for the tantrum to subside. You’re better off drawing your pulling her in for a hug and empathizing with her emotions, or be there through her outbursts and allowing her to settle down.
Once she’s calm, only then can you talk with the expectation of being heard.
7. Redirect your child’s misbehavior
“Spin over here,” I recently told my four-year-old. I didn’t mind him spinning, just not with his 11-month-old baby brother a mere foot away. Instead, I offered another similar option.
Redirecting misbehavior elsewhere honors your child’s impulse and avoids telling your child “no.” Jumping is fine, just not on the couch, for instance. Telling our kids ‘no’ too often can wear them down and lead to an outburst.
8. Give your child a “heads up”
My four-year-old will throw a fit if i tell him we’re leaving the park without any warning. Fair enough—he was likely in the middle of something fun or had no idea when we were even going to leave.
Now I know better than to spring things on him, and instead give him a heads up. I let him know a few minutes before anything changes. For instance, he likes when I put the babies in their cribs so he can play peek-a-boo with them before bath time. When it’s time to give them a bath, I let him know a minute or two beforehand.
9. Listen to your child
How often have you not listened to your kids when they want your attention? My kids can be clawing for my attention and my mind is wondering whether I have enough basil to make pesto. Meanwhile I respond with an “Uh-huh…”
Listen when he talks. Yes, his stories can get incessant, make no sense half the time, and you’d rather be doing something productive or relaxing.
But genuinely listening to our kids builds a strong bond and earns their trust and love. And above all, listening to our kids respects them. We can only expect to be treated the way we treat others, right?
And finally, I’d love to share with you one effective word I’ve found effective with teaching children to listen in this FREE printable handout. Learn about the word, why it works and how to use it (comes with a worksheet, too!).
Learning how to get your child to listen is most effective when you remove the power struggles.
Take your hands off your hips, soften your tone, be more matter-of-fact. I’ve learned the tips above are more effective than losing my temper or yelling them into submission.
The days aren’t always perfect, but at least I know how to finally get my kids to stop pulling the blinds.
Get more tips:
- What to Do when Your Kids Refuse to Do Chores
- Small Habits to Improve Your Parenting
- Positive Parenting Resolutions You Can Actually Keep
- The #1 Secret for Getting Kids to Listen the First Time
- The Difference between Rules and Responsibilities
What challenges do you face when your kids don’t listen? What are your tips teaching children to listen?
One Effective Word to Get Kids to Listen
Do you struggle with getting your kids to listen? Learn the ONE effective word to get them to listen and follow instructions. Download my FREE handout and worksheet!