How Can I Get My Kids To Listen?

How do I get my kids to listen?

Hi Annie,

How can I get my kids to listen?  I’ve got 3 kids; my oldest is turning 4 in January; the middle is 2; and my youngest is about to turn 1.

My biggest source of frustration is getting the kids to do what I ask the first time I ask. I typically have to ask at least three times, then I have to physically redirect them to do whatever it is I asked them to. Have you got any tips on how I can recondition my kids to do what I ask the first time? Right now I’ve just started to ask once and wait, but now I’m finding that I’m using the phrase “I’m only going to ask once” a lot more.

Thanks, and have a great day!

Hi Nancy,

Many parents ask the same question: “How can I get my kids to listen?” I understand how frustrating it gets when the kids simply don’t listen to you and you end up having to say the same thing over and over again. The question to ask yourself when this happens is, “Why are they ignoring you?”

They learn how to listen by what you teach them.

As kids grow from babies into toddlers, they start to relish their burgeoning independence and realize they can either decide to take notice of what you say or ignore you. Most will take you at your word unless something comes along that teaches them not to. Most of the time, this is because saying something is one thing and doing it is quite another, and doing it is crucial to teaching your children to listen to you.

Consider your situation.You have to ask your little people several times and then physically redirect them. Ok, yours are little, so their memory is short, particularly for your baby, so that accounts for some of that “forgetfulness.” However, you can’t say that much with regards to your three-year-old.

Take stock of how much they are really listening.

So I think we can safely say your eldest and your two-year-old (at least some of the time) are ignoring you until it becomes really necessary to listen. The reason for that would be that something happens to you between the first request and the “third” or “physical redirection” request. My guess is that your voice changes slightly, if not significantly. Perhaps it goes up a few notches. I would also guess that your physical stance changes as well, and you look and sound more serious by the time you’ve had to wait.

In short, by the time you get to the “redirection,” they are going to do what you request. But they won’t respond until you get to that point, which means responding to your earlier requests lacks any sense of the same urgency. That’s why they wait—until you demand an answer.

How to get my kids to listen? Consequences and consistency are everything.

To solve this, you have to follow through with a consequence. I’d give your children two opportunities to do something. Each time you make a request, don’t say it from a room away; make sure they hear and see what you’re asking. Get eye contact, and if they don’t do what you’ve asked, remind them once and then act. Do whatever you want with or without their help.

If you’re waiting for your two-year-old to put their own boots on and they haven’t started the attempt, then do it quickly and calmly yourself without comment. Because two-year-olds love to try and be independent, they might make a fuss. Stay calm and just mention that you’re now out of time and you’ll have to do it. Make sure, though, that you don’t reinforce the “not listening” by making it a “cuddle” moment; otherwise, your child will simply wait, hoping for the same positive reinforcement the next time.

Notice when they get listening right.

If they do as asked, make a big fuss and give them some heartfelt congratulations for getting it right. Kids love it when you notice when they’re doing things right.

So what you’re essentially doing is removing the negative feedback that comes with not listening because you’re simply going to do it anyway and only give them positive feedback when they do get it right. If you can stay calm when they are uncooperative and be pleasantly pleased when they do try, you’ll find they’ll want to help out and be cooperative because you notice.

Take time out to help your kids learn to listen to you.

Sometimes parents have a really tough time following through, though, and that’s because “life” gets in the way. If you want to make your words count, remove all the other aspects of your life, like shopping and other trips, that would normally make it harder to follow through. Pick a few non-play school days when you don’t have to go anywhere except for a walk. Bring in easy-to-prepare meals, and make those few days central to following through on everything you say 100%. Sounds fun, right?

You’ll have the time and opportunity to notice when they get it wrong and when they get it right, and you’ll be able to respond accordingly. By appreciating their efforts and bypassing their failures, you’ll show them that they’ll have more to gain by cooperating than by being dismissive. In a nutshell, that’s how to get your kids to listen. For more parenting help, visit my parenting services page.

I hope that helps and I wish you all the best.


Do you know how boredom is actually great for kids?

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Would you like to know how to get your toddler to sleep?  Do you know the “Four parenting sentences you should watch.”  Or how about “Why raising a resilient child matters.

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