Tired and guilty of yelling at your child to behave and follow instructions? Learn how to get kids to listen without yelling, and foster mutual respect instead.
“Don’t stand on your bed,” I warned my son for what felt like the zillionth time. “You might fall and get hurt.” Considering that he slept on the top bunk, this warning didn’t come lightly.
But sure enough, as soon as I started to leave, I turned around to peek in the room and found him standing once again.
Every parent will remind her kids of the rules, only to (sometimes literally) turn around and find them doing exactly what she just told them not to. Maybe you asked yours not to play in the muddy puddle or pluck the leaves from the plants. Next thing you know, they’re covered in mud with a fistful of leaves in their hands.
Or perhaps you’ve told them not to hit each other so many times before. Except not only do they do it again, but they do it on purpose—and laugh afterward. Maybe they disrespect you to your face and refuse to obey, driving you to yell and get angry… then feel horrible for feeling that way.
Time-outs and taking away privileges and special items don’t work—they don’t seem to respond to any of the discipline you try to give. Instead, they scream and throw themselves on the ground multiple times a day when they don’t get their way.
Meanwhile, your house looks like a tornado because your kids don’t pick up after themselves. When they finally do, it’s because you’ve repeated yourself over and over. Never mind that they know their chores and what to do—they refuse to even start on their own without being told.
It’s enough to make you lose your mind, especially when it feels like you do nothing but yell. The ironic part is, not only do you hate yelling, but you know deep down it doesn’t work. After all, if it did, you wouldn’t find yourself in this situation over and over.
How to get kids to listen without yelling
Despite what it might seem like, your kids are likely old enough and able to listen the first time you ask them to do something (at least most of the time). Even pre-verbal toddlers have the ability to do what you asked—willingly and eagerly, as well—without having to nag.
And this also isn’t an endless quest to find the “best” consequences for their behavior before they finally get it. As you’ll learn, the best consequences are hardly the punishments of typical parenting. Rather, they are the real-life results of their choices.
So, why then is it a struggle to get your kids to listen without having to raise your voice?
Simply put: you’ve taught them not to. Through years of repetition, you’ve created expectations that have led to these circumstances.
Don’t worry—that’s actually a good thing. Because just as you’ve created your current circumstances, so too can you change them for the better. And it starts with these simple changes on how to get kids to listen without yelling:
1. Use natural consequences
Timeouts, not getting a cupcake, or losing iPad privileges don’t always work, especially when they have nothing to do with the behavior. Yes, your child now feels remorse, but has she really understood why she shouldn’t do what she did?
Let’s say you asked her not to jump in the muddy puddles, but she did it anyway. Rather than taking away iPad time later that evening, you could say, “We’ll need to get you cleaned up at home, so that means our play time will be cut short.”
She’ll be more likely to listen when she can be held accountable for her choices.
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2. Explain the consequences
What happens when there isn’t a natural consequence that fits the behavior? Even then, threatening a random consequence won’t do the job as well as if you simply explain what the problem is.
Let’s say you’ve asked your kids not to pluck the leaves off your house plant. Putting them in timeout is less effective than talking about why you asked them not to do that, and what happens if they still do.
Maybe that means gathering all the leaves they plucked and explaining that the plant now hardly has any leaves to grow. Or you show them that they can pluck the ones that are yellow since that’s helpful to the plant, but not the ones that are still green.
Or, to tie it back to natural consequences, you simply give them the responsibility of sweeping the leaves and cleaning the mess. Either way, they can see why you asked them not to—and it’s not because you’re being “mean” about it.
3. Pick your battles
Sometimes the power struggles and screaming fights happen for pretty silly reasons. I’ve lost my temper because my son insisted on wearing gloves when I didn’t want him to. Another time, it was because one of my boys insisted on drinking from a swirly straw and I wasn’t in the mood to grab it from the kitchen.
Yes, many times we do need them to listen, like when they’re bothering their siblings or need to hold our hand to cross the street.
But sometimes, the reasons can be pretty petty. And the only way to know whether they’re important or not? You have to take a step back and reflect.
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to yell and get upset over the silliest reasons. Instead, take advantage of that “pause” between the trigger and your reaction to reflect on whether this is important. Is it really a big deal to grab that straw, or that he wears the gloves?
Pick your battles. Not every disagreement has to end in a power struggle.
4. Be consistent with following through
Your current circumstances are a result of all the times you’ve “trained” your kids to behave that way. If you find that you need to yell to get them to listen, it’s likely because they’ve grown used to not listening any other way.
Moving forward, make sure you’re consistent with what you say. Don’t make empty threats that you’ll never follow through on—this only teaches them not to take your word as truth.
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.)
And don’t resort to unfair generalizations, like, “You never listen to what I say,” or “You always misbehave.” These phrases not only label the child instead of the action, they’re also not true.
Be consistent with the rules and responsibilities they have. If they’re not allowed to kick the soccer ball inside the house, then that has to be enforced each time, with few exceptions.
5. Work together
Getting your kids to listen often means doing chores and tasks they need to do. Maybe they need to pick up their toys, get dressed, set the table, or fold their laundry. Sometimes, working together can be just the thing they need to get the ball rolling.
You might offer to help clean up one area of the house while they do another. Hand them the utensils to set on the table, or sort socks while they fold their pants. Creating a team mentality takes away the resistance you might’ve been feeling from them all this time.
And yes, ideally, they’ll do this without needing your help at all. But moving in baby steps can at least stop the cycle of yelling and nagging and point you in a new direction until then.
6. Give natural incentives
Just as you give natural consequences that fit the misbehavior, so too should you give natural incentives to motivate your kids.
Typical rewards like sticker charts or toys don’t always work. After all, you want them to do a job well done because of the pride they feel, or the contribution they know they’re making. But reminding them of the natural incentives they get is different: they have a goal to work toward that fits the behavior.
Let’s say they usually watch television at the end of the day, but only after cleaning up their toys. Remind them that the more efficiently they clean, the more time they get to watch a show.
7. Praise positive behavior
Our brains are wired to spot things that are wrong, things we should worry or be fearful about. That was useful back in the day when our ancestors were in actual danger from a saber-toothed tiger, but not so much during our modern times.
Except that’s exactly what happens when you spot just about everything your kids are doing wrong. Your brain is on the lookout for things that “threaten” you, even if it means something as simple as them not listening.
If you’ve created a story about how they never listen or are always being stubborn, that only makes finding those misdeeds even more likely. After all, your brain likes to be “right” and will find all the evidence to prove your stories correct.
As I say in my parenting workshop, How to Get Your Child to Listen:
“Our brains like to be ‘right.’ And if your attention is focused on all these negative stories about your child, your brain will find as many ways as it can to ‘prove’ itself right. This means you’re more likely to remember, dwell on, and put most of your energy on the ways your child doesn’t listen, while overlooking the other ways that he does.”
Instead, re-train your brain to look for the positive ways your kids are behaving. Yep, even when it feels like they never do anything right, or that it’s over the simplest things. You might say, “Thank you for putting your shoes on without me asking you,” or “Look how happy you two are playing.”
The more you can spot these positive behaviors, the more likely they’ll continue to do them. More importantly, you’ll be on the lookout for them as well, and will be less likely to label them as troublemakers.
8. Meet your kids’ basic needs
No amount of parenting hacks will work if your kids aren’t in a good starting point. Many power struggles aren’t really about bedtime battles or picky eating. Instead, they’re rooted in their well-being.
If you find yourself constantly yelling to get them to listen, ask yourself if you’re meeting their basic needs. Have they gotten enough exercise and movement today, especially outdoors? Did they get enough sleep? Are they eating healthy food?
These physical factors affect how they behave and must be addressed for any of the above tips and tricks to work.
Learning how to get kids to listen without yelling often starts with changing the way you communicate with them.
Avoid random punishments, and instead use natural consequences that fit their behavior. If there isn’t a natural consequence, explain the consequences of their choices, and why you had asked them to listen.
Be consistent with following through with these consequences and enforcing your household responsibilities. At the same time, ask yourself whether these issues are important to stand firm on.
Lend a hand and work together, and remind them of natural incentives they get from starting or completing these tasks. Spot the times they do listen and acknowledge their positive behavior. And finally, make sure they’re in good health and that you’re meeting their basic needs.
From playing in muddy puddles to standing on the top bunk bed, getting them to listen without raising your voice truly is possible.
Get more tips:
- Toddler Not Listening? 7 Things You Need to Do
- Top 10 Toddler Discipline Books to Get Your Child to Listen
- What to Do when Your Kids Don’t Listen to You in Public
- One Technique to Finally Stop Yelling at Your Kids
- How to Teach a Child to Dress Themselves
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and discover the ONE effective word to get them to listen and follow instructions. Download your PDF below—at no cost to you: