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36 Kick-Ass Ways To Get Your Kids To Listen

It’s what every parent wonders.

How to get kids to listen, that is.

So you don't get tied in an enormous knot of frustration so big you feel like Mount Vesuvius about to erupt.

So you don't have to repeat yourself … over and over and over.

So your kids no longer tune you out.

And you don't have to resort to yelling just to be heard.

The good news is that you can stop tearing your hair out now. I’ve got you covered with these 36 Kick-Ass Ways To Get Your Kids To Listen.

It’s a round-up of the best advice from the best parenting experts. 

So let’s dive in, shall we?

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1.   Scale Things Down

Dr Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids asks parents to think about the essentials.

“Pare down your orders to what's really non-negotiable. If you worked for someone who constantly badgered you with orders, would you feel like cooperating?"

She says, "You don't want every interaction with your child to be an order. So maximize the loving, happy interactions, and minimize the orders.”

2.   Say What You Want

Sheila McCraith, author of Yell Less, Love More found that a lot of parenting sites give the same basic advice that’s too difficult to remember, particularly when she’s in a hurry.

But she found a simple tip she really loves. She says “Begin requests with “I want” as children naturally want to please."

Sheila says, "This is working phenomenally. PHENOMENALLY. I hate to admit it because whenever I say “I want” I feel selfish, but they get it.”

3.   Make Time For One-On-One Time

Amy McCready, author of If I Have To Tell You One More Time… says, “Not listening is a power struggle and if left unaddressed, can escalate to back talk, tantrums and even defiance.”

McCready recommends making time for one-on-one time with each of your children, twice a day.

“By far, the best thing you can do to improve your children’s behavior is spending time with them individually every day."

Amy says, "When they don’t have that positive attention, they will seek out attention in negative ways, and consequences and other discipline methods won’t work."

Amy recommends aiming for "10-15 minutes a day per child and you’ll see measurable improvement almost immediately.”

4.  Stop Hurrying

Rachel Macy Stafford, author of Hands Free Mama says, "When you’re living a distracted life, every minute must be accounted for. You feel like you must be checking something off the list, staring at a screen, or rushing off to the next destination."

She says, "And no matter how many ways you divide your time and attention, no matter how many duties you try and multi-task, there’s never enough time in a day to ever catch up.”

One day Rachel realised, “I was a bully who pushed and pressured and hurried a small child who simply wanted to enjoy life.”

Once she realised, and adjusted to her child’s pace, life became simpler and easier.

5.  Add A Little Contact

“I have found that one tip to get my usually-defiant child to listen is to add gentle, but firm physical contact.” So says Dayna Abraham of Lemon Lime Adventures, and author of Sensory Processing 101.

Dayna says, “Although it takes a bit more effort than yelling across the room, when I rush to his side and lift him up into my arms to tell him exactly what I need him to do, it started to resonate with him."

She continues, "Maybe it’s the undivided attention he can now pay me as I am staring him face-to-face. Or perhaps, it’s the ability for me to speak to him sternly, yet sincerely. Either way, 9 times out of 10 the outcome is positive.”

6.  Use One Word

In the book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish recommend using one-word reminders.

If your child has forgotten to stack their dishes, you can just say “dishes” to remind them. 

If they’re near a hot stove, you can say “Hot stove!”

This avoids us falling into the trap of lecturing our kids, which teaches them to tune us out.

7.  Lower Your Voice

Michele Borba is the author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, and an internationally recognized expert and author on children, teens, parenting, bullying and moral development.

Michele says, "Nothing turns a kid off faster then yelling, so do the opposite: talk softer not louder. Teachers have used this strategy for years because it works."

"Try whispering your request. It usually catches the kid off guard and he stops to listen. (For toddlers: whisper the direction to a teddy bear or the kitty. Nothing gets a little one’s attention faster!)"

8.  Validate Feelings

Ariadne Brill at Positive Parenting Connection says it’s, “…helpful to validate feelings and then trust that your child will be able to feel her feelings and move on.”

Here’s an example of how Ariadne used this technique with her four year old:

Me: “Can you please set the place mats on the table?”

Four-year-old (with creative excuses): “Oh..but my legs hurt! And I’m playing with my playmobil!”

Me (showing interest): “Oh no, your legs hurt? What’s going on with them?”

Four-year-old (being honest!): “Ugh, I just don’t feel like table setting mama. it’s so boring!”

Me (validating): “Uhm.uhm..you don’t feel like it. It is boring. I understand. And it’s dinner time. So what’s your plan to get your job done?”

Four-year-old: “I don’t wannnna. I don’t mama.”

Me: “It’s a boring job. you don’t want to do it. Could you make it a fun job?”

Four-year-old (understanding my request wasn’t changing): “Can my playmobil princess do it? You, know, with my help?”

Me: “Yes!”

9.  Limit Your Commands

Alida, aka The Realistic Mama recommends parents, “Pay attention to how many corrections, requests or redirections you give your child during the day."

Aida says, "Chances are, they have tuned you out! Focus on the big things so your child knows what’s important.”

This is similar to scaling things down, but it’s more than that. This is also being mindful of the corrections and criticisms – or negative feedback – we use during the day.

10.  Follow Through

Natasha Daniels is a child therapist who advocates consistency and follow through. She sees kids who tell her:

  • "I only listen when I hear my mom screaming"
  • "If I don’t do it – my mom will."
  • "My mom always threatens to take things away – but she never does."
  • "If I beg my dad enough – he’ll give it back to me."
  • "If I throw a big enough fit my dad will get annoyed and give in."
  • "They say I can earn it back – so I don’t care if they take it away."
  • "If my dad says no, my mom will say yes."

Natasha says, "We are teaching our children NOT to listen to us. Isn’t that scary? Our behavior is shaping our children’s reactions and habits without us even knowing it!"

She says, "When we set a pattern of not following through or of changing our no to yes due to exhaustion – our children note our reaction and file it away for next time.”

11.  Connect First

Cheryl Butler at Mighty Mommy says, “Don't start talking until you have your child's attention."

Cheryl recommends, "Connect before you start speaking. That means you can't yell orders from another room and expect your child to listen, never mind respond.”

She says it’s a great idea to make a positive comment about what your child is doing. Then, when they look up and you have their attention, you can start talking.

12.  Practice What You Preach

Christa Osborne is a former high school English teacher who's raising her niece as her daughter. She recognises the irony of wondering how to get kids to listen.

She writes, “I don’t know how many times I’ve lectured Caroline or ended up yelling at her because— She. Does. Not. Listen. To. My. Words."

Christa says, "The flip side is I also don’t know how many times I’ve been trying to have a conversation with someone while she’s tugging at my shirt saying “mommy” over and over, and— It. Doesn’t. Even. Register."

She says, "The day I realized we mutually don’t listen to each other was a total Keanu Reeves “Whoa” moment for me.”

13.  Respond, Don't React

Suzanna Tucker at My Mommy Manual says, “…instead of reacting to what feels like disobedience, reclaim your personal-power and respond to your child instead."

She explains that, “Once you let go of your reaction (i.e feeling shocked, offended, disrespected, etc), you can put 100% of your energy into responding to your child instead (i.e. connecting and redirecting their behavior.)”

14.  Watch And Listen

Steph, momma to three small children and founder and managing editor of Modern Parents Messy Kids says, “Too many questions can make our kids feel like the pressure is on. Especially when our children are just beginning to talk.”

She goes on, “ …we often can find out more about our kids, and not just what they know, by simply listening and watching them."

"If we can be comfortable with quiet and fewer (and smarter) questions, we actually give children space to tell us (or show us) what they want to share.”

15.  Don't Compete For Attention

Catherine Bailey, author of Mind Your Monsters says, “Kids are usually engrossed in whatever they’re doing. When they’re busy watching TV or playing, they might say “um-hmm” or “okay,” but that doesn’t mean they actually heard what we said.

She says, "To make sure you get their full attention, ask them to stop what they’re doing before you voice your complaint. If they respond to your request with “just a minute,” insist they use the ‘pause’ button or put down the toy.”

16.  Keep Your Promises

Harleena Singh, CEO and principal writer of the self-help site Aha!Now says, “Sometimes as parents you might forget to keep the promises you make to your kids. You might mean to keep them, but due to lack of time or a busy schedule, you can’t keep them.”

Harleena explains that “… to a child, breaking such promises removes the trust they have in you, and eventually they stop believing and listening to what you have to say.”

17.  Let Them Reason

Anne Radcliffe is a mom and blogger and says it’s OK for kids not to listen. She explains,“One of the hardest things to accept as a parent is that sometimes it’s a good thing that kids don’t listen."

Anne says, "If they always listened to us, they’d never learn to reason for themselves. And so the most important piece of advice that I ever got (which I’m sure I’ve been told before by someone, but ignored and have had to relearn for myself) is that you have to let people figure out things for themselves.”

17.  Be Honest

Chaley-Ann Scott is a sociologist, parenting counsellor, and mother-of-four and says we need to stop telling ‘white lies’ to placate our kids, because it trains them not to trust us.

Saying ‘We’ll come back tomorrow’, ‘We’ll get that game another day’ or ‘I have no money in my purse right now’ isn’t the answer.

She says, “Those little lies build up and, children aren’t stupid, they work out quickly if mum and dad are people who tell lies." 

"Why should they listen to someone who doesn’t always tell the truth? Would you?”

19.  Bend Those Legs

Katie Joiner is a mum and former teacher who recommends getting down to their level.

She says, “Standing over a child while talking with them can be scary and intimidating for a child, especially if you are upset.

Get down to their level and look them in the eyes. It helps them to focus and it lets them know that you are talking with them not at them. It shows them respect, too.”

20.  Sing Instead

Kate from Picklebums is a former pre-school teacher and mother of four.

She keeps things fun and light by singing and says, “I will sing (possibly like an opera singer) or ask for co-operating in funny or creative ways… ‘Can you slither like a snake to the bath?’ "

Kate says, "If all else fails I will take a deep breath, realise this is totally normal, and start all over again.”

21.  Give Choices

Ilana Wiles blogs over at Mommyshorts, and also dispenses great advice from her sister “the brilliant Dr B”. They recommend giving kids choices, within acceptable parameters.

Dr B says, “When children are non-compliant, they are looking for some control. Giving choices is one way to give your child control but on your terms. State all requests or directions as choices when you can.

Instead of saying, “You need to get dressed now.” Try, “Do you want to put on your shirt or pants first?” while holding up both options to make the choice as concrete as possible.

Similarly, avoid making something sound like a choice when it isn’t. For example, do not say “Can you come to the dinner table?” when “no” is not an option.

22.  Be Positive

Amanda Morgan from Not Just Cute says that kids respond best when you word things positively.

She calls this “Say What You Need to See” and says that when we say, “Don’t bounce in your seat” the visual image is of someone bouncing in their seat. Instead we should say something like, “Please sit still in your chair.”

When we tell kids what not to do she says, “The verbal image is of what you DO want to see. There is less misunderstanding and you’re not swimming upstream against the visual of what you DON’T want to see."

23.  Write It Down

Kelly Pietrangeli from Project Me, says to write things down as a rule rather than repeating yourself over and over.

Kelly says, “When it's there in black and white you can point to the rule, rather than saying it all over again.”

This is powerful even when children are too young to read. The fact that it's a written rule that can be referred to will still have an impact.

24.  Employ Natural Consequences

Dr Erica Reischer, author of "What Great Parents Do: The small Book of BIG Parenting Ideas" (Tarcher/Penguin Random House, forthcoming) says to let natural consequences work their magic.

Erica says, “Natural consequences are those that follow without parents having to do anything, such as getting wet feet from wearing flip-flops instead of rain boots, or not having their clothes laundered because they left them on the bedroom floor.”

She says they’re often the best teacher, as long as there are no safety risks.

25.  Give Advance Notice

William Penton Sears is an American pediatrician and the author or co-author of more than 30 parenting books including The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age.

Sears says to give advance notice like “We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the girls…”

Giving kids advance notice that you're leaving, or that toys will need to be left behind, plants a message. Your kids may not look like they heard you, but there will be less shock and upset if you give them advance notice.

26.  Ask Them To Repeat

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist who specializes in treating children and adolescents with depression, anxiety, and behavior problems. She’s also the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.

She says, "After you give an instruction to your child, ask him to repeat back what he heard. This can ensure that he understands what you expect from him. This provides an opportunity to provide clarification if there’s any misunderstanding."

27.  Connect Consequences To Behaviour

Janet Lehman is a veteran social worker who has worked with troubled children and teens for over 30 years.

Janet says, “The consequence you give should be as closely related to your child’s misbehavior as possible. For example, if your daughter comes in late for curfew on Friday night, set her curfew 15 minutes earlier the next weekend. If she is responsible and succeeds in coming in on time, she can have her old curfew back.”

She adds, “just like with anything else in life, practice is how your child will learn to make better choices when he’s upset or angry.”

28.  Make It A Race

Stacey Viera is a freelance food writer, skilled communicator and child schlepper who recommends making it a race.

She says, "Got a competitive kid? “I’m gonna sit at the table first!” or “I’m gonna use the potty first!” often motivates them because if they win, they know they’ll get to hear, “Aw, shucks! You beat Mommy again!”

Stacey writes, "Racing against time is also fun, especially during that most combative situation: The Toddler Seatbelt Struggle of Doom. Save your sharp elbows for your next Costco trip. Instead try: “Last time it took 23 seconds to buckle you in. Let’s see how fast we can do it today!” "

29.  Assume They'll Do It

Alicia Eaton is a hypnotherapist and neuro-linguistic programming expert, and author of Words That Work: How To Get Kids To Do Almost Anything.

“'The word "when" is often referred to as the most hypnotic word in the English language. It gently implies that something will be done in the initial instance” says Eaton.

Eaton says to give the subtle message the task ahead is a fait accompli by using the word ‘when’.

She suggests phrases such as: 'When you've tidied your room, we'll have some lunch', 'When you've finished your maths homework, we'll be able to go out to the park' or 'When you've put your uniform on, we can go downstairs for breakfast'.

30.  Embrace "Complaint Free"

Coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus says we should stop complaining because, “Complaining, when overused, keeps us from taking responsibility."

She says, “Complaint-free” living means that you stop negative approaches to sharing information, like complaining, criticizing and gossiping. Instead of looking for what’s wrong, it’s about looking for what could be right."

"After all, whether you look for the negative or the positive, that’s exactly what you’re likely to find."

How does this help you get your kids to listen? Try looking for all the times your kids DO listen and do what you ask – you might be surprised. You might even learn what works, and what doesn’t.

31.  Put On Your Positive Face

Michèle Gamzo, writing on A Fine Parent says to use positive facial expressions.

She writes, “Smiles, slightly upturned lips, and eyes widened in excitement can also affect how our children respond to our message. Once again, by imbuing a positive expression, we encourage our children to have positive responses.

The Raising Children Network urges that the emotional experiences children have with others shapes their responses throughout life.

Put on your positive, engaged face before you talk to you kids and they'll be more included to respond positively~

32.  Let Them Be The Boss

Andy Smithson is a Licensed Masters Social Worker and says to let your kids be the boss sometimes.

He says, “Give your children opportunities to lead activities and conversation and listen with full attention.”

We can teach active listening by modelling the behaviour to our kids.

He says, “Make eye contact. Respond when they ask questions. Even when you are busy, acknowledge their requests, questions and statement. Let them know you will be done in a moment and then you can give your full attention and then honor that.”

33.  Look At The Circumstances

Becky Mansfield, a former 2nd grade teacher turned play therapist says to consider the circumstances.

She says, “If a child is tired after a long day, it may not be a good time to insist on picking up all toys before bed. Pick your battles, and pick the time/day of your battles also. They don’t need to learn everything in one month or even one year. It’s okay to go slowly.”

Most kids are harder of hearing when they’re tired!

34.  Understand Why They Don't

Adina Soclof is the Founder of ParentingSimply.com and a certified Speech Pathologist.

She says we need to understand why children don’t listen and says, “Children are often torn between wanting their parents to take care of them and needing to feel independent. They are confused."

"When their parents ask them to do something and they need to comply, they are also battling their inner voice which might be telling them: "You don't need to listen to anyone. You are your own boss, you can do your own thing!"

“Once we understand why it is so hard for kids to listen, we can approach our interactions with compassion, tact and understanding."

35.  Keep Your Cool

Dean Mehrkens is a lifecoach who says to keep your cool and “Don’t be a jerk.”

He says, “It can be frustrating and downright infuriating to be ignored, especially by your own kids. Getting angry with them won’t help. It’ll only frustrate them, which is no way to gain the trust and respect that leads to willful obedience. Take a deep breath. Keep your head on straight. And think like an adult, don’t emote like a toddler.”

36.  Use Positive Persuasion

Cate Scolnik is a parenting strategist, sociologist and life coach. 

Cate says to use positive persuasion, "Tell them that in order to get what they want, they must complete the action you want them to take."

Cate says, "I call it "So that" and here's how you'd structure the sentence:
So that you can [incentive] you need to [take action].

Here's how you might use it:
1) So that you can watch TV, you need to put your shoes on and get ready for school
2) So that you can listen to a story, you need to brush your teeth for bed
3) So that you can eat dinner, you need to wash your hands

This is similar to 'when', but the incentive comes first. It's slightly more complex language, so I'd use 'when' for younger kids and 'so that' for older kids - once they've reached school age.

So that you can get your kids to do what you ask, you just need to practice this technique. See? It's so easy and effective I just used it on you (you knew that, right?)

Your Challenge

So there you have it. 36 Kick-ass ways to get your kids to listen.

It’s a lot to digest, isn’t it? It’s a lot to take in all at once.

So here’s a challenge for you. Pick one idea a day and implement it.

Do this for the next 7 days and your household will experience a transformation.

You’ll be calmer, your children will be happier, and your family will be more caring and understanding.

It sounds amazing, but these strategies truly have the power to change your world.

In fact, they have the power to change families everywhere.

By sharing this post with every parent you know, you can help others as much as you’re helping yourself.

You have the power to change lives for the better, just by hitting a share button.

You can choose to keep these ideas a secret, or you can share them and give other people a great opportunity.

I can’t wait to see what you choose.

Don't forget ...

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Cate

Cate is on a mission to help parents stop yelling and create families that listen to each other. She does this while imperfectly parenting two boisterous girls of her own, and learning from her mistakes. She has contributed to Tiny Buddha, Think Simple Now, A Fine Parent and many other awesome sites.

  • Ann Davis

    Cate,

    Great advice here.

    We had the rules down in our house #23, but to be honest we have used almost all the advice above.

    And, singing worked like a germ when I nannied my nieces and nephews.

    Best,
    Ann

    • Hi Ann, I’m glad you like the piece and you’re right, these strategies are useful for Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents too!

  • faigie

    Cate I love how you did this…great job!! (Too bad my youngest is 18)

    • Hi Faigie, thanks for your support. I hope your kids listen now they’re all grown up!

  • Love the roundup, Cate! So much great advice here… While I love all of these, my favorite one which works surprisingly well in our household is the “one word” tip from the book “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk”. Who would have thought just saying “lights” is a lot more effective at getting my daughter to switch off the lights than lectures, pleading, nagging or ordering!?! I try to use this trick whenever I can get myself to remember!

    • Hi Sumitha, I love it when simple things are effective don’t you? It makes life so much easier and that’s what we all need – a little bit of easy. Thanks for commenting!

  • Ilka Emig

    Fantastic Cate! You really managed to gather great and wonderful advice from these amazing experts. Congratulations!

    • Thanks Ilka, I’m glad you liked the piece. Thanks for commenting!

  • Thanks for sharing my Tip #23 about writing down the rules.

    I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s wonderful tips too and love your idea of choosing one tip per day to focus on.

    It would be great to print this out and refer to it daily so see which tip to conscientiously apply to your parenting each day! Turn it into your own parenting challenge 🙂

    • Hi Kelly, that’s a great idea! I love it – thanks for sharing it. I also like the idea of having a 30 day parenting challenge, using the techniques. 😉

  • Alicia Eaton

    Thanks very much, Cate. It’s lovely to see that so many of us experts are passionate about helping parents to create happy families!

    • Thanks for sharing your expertise with us, Alicia – and for commenting!

  • Quinn Eurich

    Don’t have kids – but singing does wonders with getting the dogs to mind!

    Great post Cate! Everything here is so easily actionable – may even try slithering to the bath myself!

    All the best!

    Quinn

    • Thanks Quinn! It’s actually quite interesting how similar dog training and child raising can be (I know that upsets a lot of parents, so I don’t say it often!). But for both groups we can unintentionally ‘train’ them into certain behaviour, we can mess the whole lot up if we get emotional or frustrated, and simple strategies can make a huge difference to eliciting ‘good’ behaviour.

      I have a love of terriers and currently have a cheeky Cairn, so I’m used to dealing with super-smart and rather independent personalities! He’s been giving me the ‘I’m too busy for the likes of you’ glare for the last two days.

      • andreastill

        Congrats on the launch Cate! The site setup and design is looking good.

        I cannot comment on children either, but having a Westie – similar dog to yours – I know what you mean about the independent personality and those ‘looks’! They have great characters however… Sorry, going off on a tangent here 🙂

        Best wishes with your blog!
        Andrea

        • Hey Andrea, I used to have a Westie too! She was a fabulous dog – VERY independent and a little bossy, but wonderful. She was a day short of 16 when she left us. Our Cairn is more sensitive, but still cheeky! Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  • Mark Tong

    Hey I don’t have kids either, but great advice – might work on adults as well:)

    • Thanks for commenting Mark and you’re right, many of these will work with adults too. 🙂

  • Angela Anderson

    As a parent, I’m always looking for ways to improve. As life gets busier and busier, it’s easy to lose focus on what’s really important. Thanks for the practical advice!

    • Hey Angela, thanks for commenting – I’m glad you liked the post. Simple and effective strategies are my favourite! 🙂

  • Nicki Lee

    Perfect advice for teachers! I wish I would have known these strategies when I was still in the classroom 🙂

    • Hi Nicki,

      So glad you find this useful for teaching too – thanks for commenting! 🙂