How To Talk So Kids Will Listen

Kids become deaf to their parents because we talk too much and mean little of what we say.
Mother yelling at daughter (10-11 years) through megaphone
Mother yelling at daughter (10-11 years) through megaphone

Parents feel infuriated when their children don’t listen to them. But why should they? We sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Wa, wa, wa, wa, wa” and then nothing happens.

"Make your bed, make your bed, make your bed."

"Okay, I made it for you."

"Get off the computer, get off the computer, get off your computer."

"Okay, just 10 more minutes."

Kids will eventually listen, but usually we have to get mad first.

You say: “It's time to go to school.”

They think: “Nah, it’s still early, she’s calm still.”

You say: “I MEAN IT, it's time to go to school.”

They think: “Nah, we are getting closer but not yet, she still has her cool about her.”


They think: "Yup, she is flipping out. Now I know it’s really time to go."

Your child doesn’t watch the clock, they watch you and they know when you mean business. Sadly, you have inadvertently taught them that you only mean business when you are in an emotional state and your voice is raised.

But we can change that! Here’s how to get your child to listen and respond when you are calm and cool.

"Your child’s unwillingness to listen doesn’t mean you're being undermined or disrespected."

1. Change your beliefs

Give up on the romantic dream that kids should always listen to their parents and respond immediately. After all, this is not the military and you're not raising a robot.

Your child’s unwillingness to listen doesn’t mean you're being undermined or disrespected. This is not a challenge to your authority, and it doesn’t have to make you feel impotent.

Instead, know that your child is normal and learns limits and boundaries experientially. The lack of listening simply means you have not yet learned how to establish limits in non-verbal ways. Read on, we’ll get you there!

2. Talk less

Kids become deaf to their parents because we talk too much and mean little of what we say. Children tune out our droning. So be more conscious of what comes out of your mouth. Make every word count.

Children get upwards of 200 compliance request from their parents a day. On average, they ignore 60 per cent of those requests. Would you like to be told what to do 200 times a day?

The more compliance requests given the less likely the child is to listen and comply.

"Kids become deaf to their parents because we talk too much and mean little of what we say."

3. Be patient

We are too quick to assume our children are not listening. Often they are willing to respond, but only on their schedule. It’s a face-saving technique on their part. They don’t want to feel like a puppet, so they exercise some control in the situation by showing you they will do things on their timeline and in their way. If you can just be patient and wait, you’ll be surprised what they’ll get around to do.

4. Be close and present

If you want to communicate effectively with your child and win their co-operation, give your requests when you are within a few feet of one another. Make sure you have their attention or even make eye contact.

That means no more yelling up the stairs, texting them or barking orders while you are busy unloading the dishwasher or returning emails.

If you want them to be present and attentive to your requests, you have to be present, too.

5. Tone and body language

Be sure your voice and posture remains neutral or better, open and loving. Rubbing their back when you ask them to get up in the morning will yield better results then asking them to get up with your jaw clenched and hands on your hips.

"If you want them to be present and attentive to your requests, you have to be present, too."

6. Execute a consequence

Here is the BIG change in your parenting: implementing a reasonable and logical consequence. Basically you are replacing the adage “do it because I say so” with “do it because something will actually happen if you don’t.”

Now it’s critical that the consequence is not just an empty threat or a veiled punishment. Here is how to make sure:

a) The consequence must be related to the behaviour

Example: If you would like the freedom of riding your bike, you must also be responsible for keeping it off the driveway and for locking it up safely in the garage. If the bike is left in the driveway and unlocked that means you will lose your bike privileges and it will be unavailable for a day.

That is more related than: "If I find your bike on the driveway, you lose computer time." Those are totally unrelated! The child will think: “My parent wants to hurt me and use their big parenting power to push me around -- I’ll show them!”

b) The consequence must be revealed to the child in advance so they have an opportunity to change their behaviour. So instead of: "That’s it, I’ve had it with you hogging the slide, we are leaving the park!" Try: "Can you play co-operatively on the slide? Or do we need to leave the park?"

c) You must follow through! Every time! Again, you can’t rely on the power of your words. It’s not the threatening of a consequence that brings about change, it's experiencing the consequences. Don’t offer a consequence you can’t follow through on.

7. Problem-solving together

In a time of calm, discuss the problems that are arising in the family and ask your children for ideas on how the family can function better. If getting out the door to school is a problem every morning, discuss what could make things go more smoothly. Listen for the children’s concerns and ideas. Implement their suggestions.

Children are more likely to live with rules they help create than the rules you impose. These discussions help build respect between parent and child. When children feel heard, they are more likely to listen to you, too.


Toddlers Learning The Hard Way