How To Get Your Child To Listen

Posted by on Oct 21, 2018 in Uncategorized | 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 3 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 just 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 just 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 the 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 in to 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 times that’s because saying something is one thing and following through is quite another and it’s the following through that’s integral to teaching your kids to listen to you.

Let’s take 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 so much with regards your three year old. 

Look at your expectations

So I think we can safely say your eldest and your two year old (at least some of the time), is 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 would be your voice changes, perhaps not a lot but at least a bit.  Perhaps the tone goes up a few notches.  I would guess too 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, 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 lack any sense of the same immediacy.   That’s why they wait, until you demand an answer.

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 it is with or without their cooperation with as sanguine and chilled out expression on your face as you can manage.

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 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, made a big fuss and give them some heartfelt congratulations for getting it right.  Kids love you to notice when they’re doing things right, as do we all.

Notice the positive and ignore the negative

So what you’re essentially doing is removing the negative feedback which 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 co-operative because you notice.

Sometimes parents have a really tough time following though and that’s because ‘life’ gets in the way.  If you want to make your words count, remove all the other aspects in life like shopping and other trips that would normally 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 both when they get it wrong and when they get it right and to react accordingly.   By appreciating their efforts and bypassing their failures, you’ll show them that they’ll have more to gain by co-operating than being dismissive.

I hope that helps,


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