How to get your kids to listen

Last Updated on February 12, 2024

How can I get my kids to listen?

This is one of the most common questions I am asked in my parent coaching practice or when I am speaking at a parenting event. 

It’s frustrating to give your kiddos a direction and have it ignored. Repeating a directive over and over is irritating.

Do you notice that as your annoyance increases, so does the volume of your voice? In exasperation you say, “Why can’t you just listen?”

 One dad asked this very question to his preschool son. “I just wanna be king” was his boy’s answer. 

This preschooler brilliantly articulated his reason for not listening. He wants to be in charge. 

So why can’t we get our kids to listen?

Power struggles (“I wanna be king.”), distraction (the child’s focus is on something else), and even confusion (they may not understand) are three typical reasons kids don’t readily cooperate.

The non-listening or the lack of obedience and cooperation often causes parental anger and frustration. We want to parent well, we want to be loving, and we want to avoid frustration and anger. We just want our kids to cooperate. 

If we want compliance, how we communicate our expectations matters. 

3 Reasons Why Kids Don’t Listen

Here are a few reasons why kids don’t listen and how you can manage or prevent those moments so you can avoid making the mom or dad mad.

1. The Distracted Child

The distracted child, one who is engaged in an activity, has trouble focusing on anything other than the activity in which he is engaged. Getting his attention is the solution to the distraction problem. The best way to do that is by close proximity, eye contact, a quiet voice, and a gentle touch. 

2. The Confused Child 

Most little kiddos want to please their parents but are not always certain how to do that. When too many directions are rattled off, confusion can set in. Give directions in short sound bites, being clear and concise about what you want. Depending on the age and stage of your child, you may only be able to give one direction at a time.

Give the directions in the positive: “Sit on the slide.” Rather than, “Don’t stand on the slide.” If you state a directive in the negative, you are likely to get the behavior you hope to avoid. Kids hear the action word (sit or stand), not the Do or Don’t.

3. The Wannabe King Kid

This is the most frustrating reason for not listening. Developmentally, it makes sense for our kids to want to be in charge. Practically speaking, it’s difficult to deal with a power struggle. The best way to get cooperation in this instance is to say things in a way that doesn’t give an opportunity for a tug of war.

Be on the same team. For instance, “Let’s work together to pick up the toys so we can get to the park sooner.” There may be the character that will say, “I’m not picking them up.” Respond as if it’s no big deal and say, “Oh, that’s too bad. We only have so much time to play at the park. If we work together, we will get there faster.”

You may be tempted to say, “Well, if you don’t help, you’re not going to the park.” For some reason, this does not typically motivate little ones but rather makes them dig their heels in further. It could be that they feel they have won by frustrating mom or dad.

Another way to go is the choice method. (Caution: don’t overuse this technique, or your child will think he has to make all the decisions.)  Give a choice with two acceptable options like, “The blue or green mittens?”

Again, there is the rascal that will say, “Red.” Respond by repeating the two options, “Blue or green,” and then add, “or I pick.” The child will not want to give up his ability to choose and will pick one of the two choices.

Parents, how we articulate our expectations is directly linked to our kiddo’s cooperation.  With a friendly and firm tone, a quiet voice, and close proximity, while communicating we are on the same team, we are much more likely to get our kids to listen. 

If you’d like more ideas (26 ideas!) on how to get your kiddos to listen, click here to receive The A-Zs of Cooperative Interaction. I hope you find it helpful on your parenting journey!

Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” – Colossians 3:21