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What to Do If Your Child Won’t Listen

Imagine this: your hands are full and you need your child to open the door, but they won’t. Here’s what you can do to help them listen.

Have you ever been busy working, cooking, or folding laundry, and when you ask your child to grab something for you, they won’t?

There are plenty of reasons your child won’t listen to your rules or requests. And some of them are completely understandable. But the question still stands: How can you get them to listen?

The answer comes down to consistency and follow-through, which are arguably the most important parts of parenting. But the listening journey might take some time.

The Reasons Your Child Might Not Be Listening

First and foremost, biology plays a large role in your child’s behavior. Children go through different developmental stages that affect their behavior, and they can’t help it. It falls on parents to guide them through these stages and teach them how to appropriately behave as they grow.

Secondly, mood and health plays into your child’s ability and willingness to listen. Are they tired, hungry, or upset? (I, too, have trouble listening if I can’t hear over my stomach growling.)

However, one of the most common issues is their attention. Children have relatively short attention spans, and they easily get distracted by other things like TV, toys, or electronics when you are speaking. As frustrating as this can be, it’s completely normal. And we have hacks for that.

How to Help Your Child Listen

1. Get Their Attention

If your child isn’t listening to something you really need them to hear, get their attention immediately. It’s important to do this right away so that kids understand that they can’t ignore what you’re saying. Make eye contact, go to their level physically, and use their name to ensure they are focused on you.

2. Talk So That Your Kids Will Listen

Children’s minds are still growing; they don’t understand difficult concepts like adults do. It’s important to meet kids at their development level and talk in a way that will help them listen. According to the doctors at TopLine MD, this can be methods such as giving simple, clear, and specific instructions, avoiding vague statements, using positive language to tell them what to do instead of what not to do, and more.

3. Be Consistent and Always Follow Through

Kids (and people in general) learn through repetition. So be consistent with your rules and expectations. Inconsistent responses can confuse children and only perpetuate their negative behaviors. And if you set a consequence for not listening, follow through with it to show that you mean what you say. You might even go so far as walking with them to do the task you asked them to do.

4. Praise Good Behavior and Listening Consistently

Consistently applying consequences for negative behavior teaches children accountability and helps them understand the impact of their actions. However, consistently praising good behavior and listening reinforces positive behavior and gives children a sense of trust and security. Rewards can be effective, but too much could lead to forced positive behavior for the sake of a reward rather than general responsibility and respect.

If your child seems to be misbehaving for the sake of attention, try to give attention to positive behaviors and ignore (within reason) minor misbehaviors. This will help reduce attention-seeking negative actions and help your child become a more successful, self-assured person.

5. Practice Listening with Story Time

As silly as it sounds, by creating a home where your children routinely have to listen—even to stories—they’re more likely to listen to your requests, rules, and expectations. Of course, it’s even better if you have minimal distractions. But setting specific times for listening, like family meetings or story time, helps children develop listening skills in a low-pressure environment. Plus, this has the added benefit of quality family time, which helps in building a more connected family.

6. Consider Professional Help

If nothing you do seems to help, Parenting workshops and classes can offer new strategies and support. But sometimes, bad listening skills can be the sign of something bigger, like ADHD or an auditory processing disorder. If listening problems persist and significantly impact your child’s daily life, consider seeking advice from a child psychologist or counselor.

A Few Quick Tips for Specific Situations

  • Tantrums: Stay calm and wait for the tantrum to pass before trying to communicate.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Ensure each child feels heard and address issues individually.
  • School-Related Issues: Work with teachers to understand any challenges and reinforce good listening habits at home.

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Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.

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