As parents, many of us struggle with one major concept: getting our kids to listen. Whether they are toddlers or teens, they all seem to want to be rebellious at one time or another. How do we get them to listen when they just don’t want to?
Four kids later and with the help of other mothers, I have come up with some simple solutions for getting your kid to listen, from the toddler years through the teen years.
7 Tips for Getting Kids to Listen
Establish Eye Contact
When you’re asking your child to do something, it’s vital that you have eye contact. Otherwise, they may not even realize that you’re addressing them. How many times have you spoken to your child to have them not even hear you? Heck! How many times have you asked your husband a question to have him turn to you and say, “What?” Eye contact is a must.
Eye contact also increases the strength of the communication level. You’re speaking directly to your child and not toward him/her.
Avoid “Don’t”; Say “Do”
When you have an attitude or are angry and someone says “don’t do this or that,” what do you want to do? The opposite, right? Your kids are the same. They’ll respond better if you restate your sentence. Instead of, “Don’t say mean words,” try, “Use nice words.” Rather than saying, “Don’t run in the house!” Try saying, “Walk in the house.” This way, you’re telling your child what they can do instead of what they can’t do. This has a great effect on the psyche.
It also helps because it’s not as confusing. When you tell him/her “don’t,” they must stop what they’re doing and find an alternative action. When you speak a “do” phrase, you’re telling them the alternative action.
Become a “Yes” Mom
What is your reaction to many of the questions your child asks you, such as:
- “Can we go to the park?”
- “Can I have ice cream?”
- “Can we go for a walk?”
- “Can I have a puppy?”
- “Can I have that toy?”
- “Can I go to my friend’s house?”
- “Can I…?”
We usually say “No,” right? What if we said yes more often? I’m not saying to give your child ice cream every day or to buy a toy every time they want one or even to drop everything you’re doing and go to the park every time they want to. What I’m saying is to rephrase your answer.
Rather than “No,” say, consider these responses:
- “Yes. Do you want ice cream Saturday or Sunday?”
- “Yes. Do you want to go to the park Friday or Saturday?”
- “Yes. We can go to the park on Thursday as long as it’s not raining.”
Do you see? You’re still saying, “No. Not right now,” but you’re also saying “Yes.”
This will excite your child to know that you’re listening and care about the things they like to do.
Avoid Long Speeches
When you’re giving a command, avoid long speeches. The longer the speech, the more apt they are to forget what you want them to do. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.
The same is true when giving your child a consequence. Don’t drag out the punishment because you feel like he needs a “good talking to.” A short speech does just as well. Long speeches that drone on and on get tuned out and forgotten.
Make Sure They Understand Your Command
Following the last point, make sure they understand what you want them to do. This is where eye contact and a short speech are so valuable. I always had my children repeat the chore or command back to me. That way, I knew they clearly understood the directions. I don’t want to give them a consequence later for not obeying when the truth is that they never really understood what they were supposed to do in the first place.
Demonstrate New Chores
If you’re asking them to do something new, show them how to do it. It may seem simple to you–dust the wood or sweep the floor, but it may be overwhelming to them. If you show them how you want it done, they’ll be less likely to sit there staring at it, praying they don’t disappoint you by doing it wrong.
Catch Them Doing Good
Whether your child seems to never obey or is the perfect angel, always be looking to catch him doing good. When you catch him doing something right, praise the fire out of him! This is especially effective if he’s a tyrant. Children sometimes act out for attention, and if they realize they can get attention for doing good things too, it can change the way they act.
Tips for Toddlers
Toddlers are a rowdy bunch. Think the “terrible twos” or threes, or whenever they decide to strike. They tend to strike out at other children, thinking every toy is theirs. They would kill someone for an animal cracker if they had the ability and maim their best friend for the tricycle that they weren’t interested in moments before. This is the life of toddlerdom. So how do you get these little tyrants to listen?
Play the “Simon Says” Game
One of my favorite ways of getting my toddlers to listen, especially when they were inconsolable, was to play a game with them. This was no ordinary game. This was a game similar to Simon Says, only I was Simon and there was no need to say “Simon says.”
In a fun tone, tell your toddler to do something—“Touch the wall!” Follow it up with hearty praise, “Good girl!” and clapping. Tell her to do something else. “Sit down.” Follow it with more enthusiastic praise. “Yay!” and cheering. “Touch your toes!” Do this for a while. While your toddler is having fun, you are, in reality, teaching her to obey.
My toddlers (all four of them) loved this “game.” They would quit their tantrum and immediately calm down. After playing for a little bit, they were typically ready to do whatever I needed them to do.
Repeat Their Dilemma
Many times, the reason toddlers don’t “want” to listen is not that they are simply being disobedient but that they’re frustrated with the complexity of life and their inability to express themselves.
You may try to dress your toddler, and they may throw a fit. Or you may try to get them in a bathtub to only have them throw a screaming tantrum. Why? They don’t want to wear that outfit. Or they’re so tired after a hard day playing with cars and robots that they just don’t have the energy to battle with bubbles and rubber duckies. What can you do other than punishing him/her, which may just lead to a long night of battle after battle?
Try repeating their dilemma back to them. Get down on their level and express their feeling in the words they can’t say for themselves. “You’ve had a long day. You’re tired, aren’t you?”
Odds are, they’ll nod their head.
“After we get your bath and get you all clean, Mommy will snuggle with you and read you a book. How does that sound?”
They’ll feel better having been understood, and, hopefully, the night will progress much more smoothly. This will also give him/her something more to look forward to–snuggles with Mommy.
The other conversation might go something like this. “I understand that you don’t want to wear the outfit Mommy picked out for you, but we’re going to wear this one tonight, and then Mommy’s big boy/big girl can pick out what he/she wants to wear tomorrow night.”
Tips for Preschoolers
Give a Choice
Something that works really well is to give your preschooler a choice between two options. Do you want your child to wear a nice outfit but know that it’s going to be a fight getting them to dress in an outfit that you chose? Pick out two outfits and ask them which outfit they want to wear.
Remember talking earlier about that streak of need for control? This satisfies a little bit of that, making your preschooler feel “big,” and helps them learn to start choosing their own clothes. This little tip works great for older toddlers too, by the way.
When your preschooler is not wanting to listen, sometimes lowering your voice can get his attention. The intrigue of, “What is Mommy saying?” will typically get them to quiet down and listen to what you have to say.
Of course, that is only half the battle. Now you have to get them to obey. Sometimes, a whisper can go a long way in this too. It becomes a secret, a game that he wants to take part in. It carries with it a hint of mischief.
Tips for Big Kids
Give a Head’s Up
We like to know what’s coming. It’s human nature. We don’t like to have surprises forced upon us. Imagine having the time of your life with your friends, and it suddenly comes to a screeching halt because your mom yells, “Time to go!” Bummer, right? It would be difficult to just turn off that playfulness and excitement and leave. You’d get the grumpies too.
About eight years ago, a friend of mine and I took our kiddos on a play date to a playground. About five minutes before it was time to go, she hollered to her kids, “We’re leaving in five minutes!” Her children acknowledged her and went back to playing. At the end of the five minutes, she called them to her. They quickly told the children they were playing with goodbye, left their swings and slides, and came to where we were. They excitedly told their mother all about what a great time they had. Not one of them had a grumpy spirit.
I’ve followed suit with my children every time we’ve done anything since then. Whether we’re leaving the house for the store or leaving the park to go home, I always give them a heads up. Not only do they deserve to know what’s next so they can prepare emotionally and not only does it make my life simpler since they can prepare physically, but it makes our world a better place by cutting down on the grumpies.
This isn’t just for children. I started using this when my 14-year-old was 8 years old and my youngest was only a toddler. It works well for every age and stage. My 14-year-old tells me that she still appreciates it.
Play Beat the Timer
Something else I do to get my kids to listen is play “Beat the Timer.” I’ve known many parents to set a timer and tell their children that if their room wasn’t cleaned by a certain time they’d get punished. This is not how we play beat the timer. We do the opposite, and it works well for us.
My seven-year-old likes to call himself Super Sam. I’ll ask him, “How long do you think it will take Super Sam to clean his room today?”
He’ll tell me, but he’ll still be grumpy about it.
But then we break it down into little pieces. “I think Super Sam can clean all the clothes off his floor in about 10 minutes. What do you think?”
I usually get a hearty “Yeah!” So I set the timer with a “Ready, Set, Go!” and off he goes! Pretty soon, he’s rushing in to tell me to “Stop the timer, Mommy! I’ve got all the clothes up!”
I give him the next task and time limit, he yells, “Super Sam to the rescue!” and he’s off again.
This also works well for us with school work for my son, dishes for my daughter, and laundry for my teen!
Tips for Teens
Listen to Them
If you want your teen to listen to you, be a good example. I’m not saying to listen and do what they tell you to do. Goodness no! What I am saying is to be there and be a listening ear. It’s difficult for a teen to obey someone they don’t respect, and it’s difficult for anyone to respect someone who isn’t there for them when they need them most.
Rethink Your Expectations
We, as parents, tend to put too much responsibility on our teenagers sometimes without realizing it. This is especially true if they’re our oldest. We tend to lean heavily on their help. Sometimes, this can make our teens act out. At other times, it can make them feel like an adult (after all, they have adult responsibilities) and as though they should be treated as an adult. Therefore, they get bitter against the extra rules over them and against being told what to do. After all, they’re big, right? They take care of their siblings. They enforce the rules for them. Why should they have to follow “stupid rules” too?
Remember that your teen is still a child. Give them a chance to be a child. Rethink your expectations of them. They are not mom or dad to stand guard over their siblings. That is not their job. They are a big brother or big sister. They are there to protect, love, and cherish, not to play nursemaid. Give them a chance to stand in their role so they have the opportunity to be a teen. If they’re not playing “little adult,” the lines won’t be blurred, and they won’t have as difficult of a time understanding that they, too, have rules to follow.
When Nothing Works
Sometimes, regardless of how much you try to be the “yes” mom and the “positive parent,” your child will still bulk. When nothing else works, what do you do?
The most loving thing to do is to allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their actions if those consequences are not going to cause them bodily harm. For instance, if you told them time and time again not to leave their food where the dog can reach it, and you’re constantly having to remind them, it might be time to let them understand your reasoning. Once the dog eats your child’s food one or two times, he’ll understand and hopefully remember that, “Oh! Mommy said not to leave my food where the dog can reach it!”
Another example might revolve around your children’s messes. Let me explain. When my children were younger, I spent several days telling them to clean their playroom. They spent three days in there, all day long, cleaning, and still got nowhere. It wasn’t that they couldn’t clean it or that there was too much to clean. They didn’t want to clean it.
The next morning, they woke up to a clean playroom because I had bagged up all the toys that were on the floor and set them on the porch. They helped me take them to the Department of Children’s Services that day to donate them to foster children. My children learned two things that day. One, the natural consequences of, “If I don’t get my room clean, Momma’s going to clean it for me in a way I don’t want (I had warned them, by the way).” And two, they had learned the joy of giving to those in need.
If the natural consequences would cause your child harm, then other actions must be taken. For instance, if your toddler keeps unlocking the sliding glass door and getting onto the back deck, which leads to a swimming pool, you don’t want that to lead to the possible consequences of drowning. Therefore, you must institute a different consequence–one that will be unpleasant enough to dissuade your toddler from wanting to open that sliding glass door.
If your child is refusing to listen when you tell them to put on their seat belt, you cannot let them face the natural consequences that come with that. Try pulling over your car and insisting that they put it on. Don’t move the car until they do. If they continue to refuse, you’re going to have to issue a consequence that is harsh enough to get them to obey. The situation will dictate what the consequence will be. For instance, if they’re refusing to wear it because they have friends in the backseat, take the friends straight home and ground your child from their friends for a few days.
If your teenager is skipping school, you don’t want them to face the natural consequence of expulsion. After all, that might be what they’re shooting for, and they may not realize that a move like that could have lasting repercussions. Instead, you might try instituting consequences of your own. You might try grounding your child from all of their computer games, electronics, and cellular devices until they shape up. Remember, though, that with a teenager, this kind of behavior is often a cry for help. Maybe they need more time with you. Maybe they’re hanging with the wrong friends. Perhaps they need a good heart-to-heart, and it may take spending some time together to build bonds beforehand.
Whatever you choose as consequences, make sure that your consequences are clearly stated and understood. For older children, it helps to have them listed along with their crimes when they’re first instituted. It’s best to have a list of positive consequences listed along with the negative consequences. This way you’re displaying “the carrot and the stick,” if you will. Having “a carrot” (reward system), by the way, is another effective method of getting kids to listen.
You can’t be hit or miss with toddlers, preschoolers, children, or teenagers. You must be consistent. If you’re not consistent, your kiddos won’t take you seriously. Even if they were to take you seriously, they may not remember the rule or the consequence for it if they didn’t get in trouble for it every time.
Lastly, you must always follow through on your consequences if you want your kids to listen to you. If you tell your child that you’re going to ground them from their electronics for three days, and then you let them have their cellphone or other electronic the next day, you’ve broken your word, lied to your child, and you haven’t followed through on your consequence. You just undid what you were trying to do. They now have less fear of you and your consequences because “Mom doesn’t mean what she says anyway.” You must follow through.
Why Do Kids Choose Not to Listen?
Children are just like we are. They want to feel in control.
Toddlers don’t feel like they have control over anything–their body, their voice, their choices, so they take control of what they can. They refuse to do what they’re told.
Older children start to feel more independent and want more control of their own life. They don’t feel like they should be told what to do. Of course, it’s our duty to reign that in since they don’t have the ability to safely control their own life yet. However, we do need to give them responsibilities that are fitting to their age and maturity level so they can “feel big” and feel like their maturity is being utilized.
Teenagers are not only independent but they are in that awkward stage between childhood and adulthood when the lines are blurred. They’re too big to do “kid things” and too little to do “adult things.” They want to feel like an adult, be treated like an adult, and be seen as an adult, but they’re not an adult. This especially goes for those who are 16 and up. Therefore, they tend to rebut authority, whether externally or internally.
Getting your kids to listen to you can be a long road, but it’s well worth it and one that must be traveled. You can do it, weary mother. Just put one foot in front of the other. If you need a boost of spirit or a smile along the way, remember the rest of us mothers are here with you. Keep your chin up. Stay consistent. Be clear. Follow through, and go, Mom, go!