How To Get Your Child To Listen

Posted by on Oct 21, 2019 in Articles, listening | No Comments
Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

My child simply won't listen

How to get your child to listen is a question that keeps many parents up at night. It’s frustrating when kids simply don’t listen to you, and you end up having to say the same thing over and over again. Here’s a question from Nancy:

Hi Annie,

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,

Thanks for writing in with this question of how to get your child to listen. I quite understand how frustrating it is to have to ask continually, and the phrase”I’m only going to say this once” also certainly loses some of its verbal punch if you say it multiple times. The question to ask yourself when this happens is, “Why are they ignoring you?

They won’t listen if you’ve taught them not to.

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. So how do you get your kids to listen the first time.

Look at your expectations.

So I think we can safely say your eldest and your two-year-old are ignoring you (at least some of the time) until it becomes really necessary to listen to you. 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 the tone 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. Perhaps your shoulders are scrunched up around your ears and your face is an amusing shade of bright red, simply because you’re getting fed up.

In short, when 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.  Your child won’t listen to you because they don’t have to.

Make a consequence each and every time.

To solve this, you have to follow through with a consequence and make your words count the first time. That means you have to do it calmly, though, because the moment you get upset, you give them negative feedback, which will simply make them want to wait and see how annoyed you get in the meantime. What fun!  

As a result, 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 good eye contact with them, and if they don’t do what you’ve asked, remind them once and then act. Then do whatever you want, with or without their help, with the most upbeat and relaxed expression you can muster.

So how does that work in practice?

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 unfortunately they’re out of time now and mom has to do it instead. Try not to reinforce the “not listening” though by making it a “cuddle” moment; otherwise, your child will simply wait, hoping for that same positive reinforcement the next time they refuse to be helpful.

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, as do we all.  That’s the key to getting your child to listen to you the first time, and it works for many other behaviours as well.

Notice the positive and ignore the negative.

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.

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’re wrong and when they’re right, and you’ll be able to react accordingly. By praising their efforts and bypassing their failures, you’ll show them that they’ll have more to gain by cooperating than by being dismissive.

I hope that helps.


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