How To Get Your Kids to Listen-The First Time

How to get your kids to listen (the first time you ask!), without the frustration of yelling, nagging, or asking the same question again and again and again, takes connecting with them-before you start asking.

Kid Not Listening

Q. My kids don’t listen to me—ever. I end up shouting till I’m hoarse, even when I’m in the same room. I didn’t bargain for having to go through this every time I need them to come to a meal, get ready for school or even go for a playdate or something else they love. I would have been grounded and spanked if I didn’t become a yes-man to my parents with everything they said. I don’t do that, but I do expect at least some respect and cooperation. They seem to think they can be anyway they want with me.

A. Next time you have that mental reaction of “They never listen”, intentionally switch your focus and think about what they’re doing. Are they engaged in something (whether or not you approve) that is holding their attention?

When children are focused on something the rest of the world goes away. So instead of taking yourself down the rabbit hole of “never listening”, add in at least 3 or 4 minutes per child to the process of gaining their attention. Go to each child, sit with them, and look at what they’re doing. 

Even if it’s something they’re not supposed to be doing (deal with that later), acknowledge what it is. 

Take a Moment to Connect

Kids on Computers

I bet you’re having fun playing that game.

Have you made some good progress on that project?

Must be a really good book/video game/TV show.

That’s quite the lego project you’re building.

They will expect you to yell, tell them to stop or get angry that they aren’t listening so they may react defensively at first. Make a positive comment about whatever it is they’re doing before telling them what to do. Add in a minute of just watching without a word. 

Once You’re Connected, Ask Away!

Then and only then, tell them what you need—but in a different tone:

I need you to get your things together for school so we’re ready to go in 10 minutes.

Dinner is ready. It’s time to come and set the table.

In 5 more minutes, it will be time to stop and go upstairs.

We need to leave in 10 minutes. What is one last thing you want to do before that?

Before you say you don’t have time for this, do you really have time for the power struggles you inevitably get into, the threats and angry retorts that get everything off on the wrong foot? 

This is not a magic bullet. It’s your job to remain consistent no matter how they respond. You won’t always have to spend this extra time once they trust that you are coming from a new mindset.

If they scream and run to a bedroom and slam the door, try, “Of course you’re angry about this. You’re having a good time doing what you want. Let me know when you’re ready.” 

Respect is the name of the game.

If you want respect from your children, you must always respond respectfully to them.

That doesn’t mean giving them what they want or not having firm limits and boundaries. It does mean speaking to them in the same way you want them to speak to you. When you plead, threaten, yell, hit, or blame, that is what they will learn to do with you and others. You are modeling for them how to get what you want.

Think about when you are involved in something and your child screams for immediate help or they don’t do what you want and then expect you to do what they want. It doesn’t feel good, does it? You don’t like to be interrupted any more than they do. 

Keep from setting a double standard like the one you grew up with. You became a “yes-man” because of the fear of what would happen if you didn’t. You have chosen not to parent with that same fear, but you are expecting the same results your parents got from you. So when you don’t get those results, you explode in anger—possibly a lot of the pent up anger you have stored for so long.

When I posted a comment on Facebook (Bonnie Harris Connective Parenting) about how to get your kids to listen and speaking respectfully if you want your children to do the same, a follower said it beautifully:

Mom and Daughter working togetherI ask, “are you available to hear what I have to say?” Or “please let me know when we can have a conversation”. I noticed that when I was busy with something my kids would talk at me then get upset if I didn’t hear them. I told them that sometimes I was actually doing something other than listening to them and that they had to make sure they had my attention. Then I just figured it goes both ways. We now have better communication in our household. 

The key to how to get your kids to listen…

…is to make sure you have their attention before you start telling them what you want. In the beginning, getting their attention means:

  1. Notice and acknowledge what they are doing
  2. Say something that shows you are interested in what they are doing
  3. Then, and only then, state what you want

Keep away from any blame. Know that kids through the teens are egocentric and care only about what they want. This is annoying but developmentally appropriate. The way to teach consideration for others is to: 

  • Model consideration for others
  • Be considerate of them
  • Understand that their agendas are just as important to them as yours are to you.

Do not expect it the other way around. When you parent this way from the beginning, you will be amazed at how considerate they grow to be.

Related Articles:

The Difference Between Limits and Boundaries and Why It’s so Important

What do you do when your child “talks back”?