“How do you get your child to listen the first time?” is one of the biggest questions parents are asking when it comes to parenting their kids. But you might be surprised to know — it has more to do with how YOU communicate first with talking in more positive ways, doing away with negative commands, and modeling proper listening skills. That’s right. In order to teach your child the importance of listening, the first thing you need to realize is that your child’s behavior when it comes to listening might be an easy fix, but it begins with YOU.
How to get your kids to listen the first time
First — Listen to them
Getting your kids to listen can be one of the most daunting tasks of parenting, and can begin to make us think there is something wrong with our child’s hearing. Well, maybe you should make sure it’s NOT their hearing!
A common way we react to our kids NOT listening is to raise our voices louder and louder until we get a reaction. Either that or we have to repeat ourselves 10 times before we get a response. And as you both send off negative signals to one another, it’s no wonder the cycle of miscommunication keeps getting worse and there is confusion from all angles.
Listening doesn’t only mean you want to get their attention, right? It means that you want them to soak up what you’re saying and go the distance — follow through with what you asked of them without talking back or being disrespectful.
So what if we could figure out how to get them to respond better, instead of picking up the pieces and dealing with bad behavior after they didn’t want to listen in the first place? There is a way.
Let me give you an example.
If I ask my son to get ready for school in the morning, it sometimes takes me saying it five times before he really follows through — then I end up yelling, he gets frustrated, I get angry…it doesn’t end well.
But I’ve noticed a correlation between him not listening, to how I’m communicating.
Usually, when it takes me making numerous requests to get him to follow through, it’s when he was distracted by something else, and I wasn’t making sure he was in a good place to listen. Sometimes, you have to get them to look you in the eyes, repeat it back, and watch them begin the task.
You see, kids are not adults. They do not function as adults, and they don’t quite understand the consequences of not following through as adults do — as they mature, their understanding of this will get better.
How to Raise Good Listeners
State commands instead of asking questions
Let me first say, be patient with your kids. I’m continually reminding myself of the reasons my son doesn’t listen. And sometimes the only reason is that he’s eight years old. Children are much slower-paced than adults — we could actually learn something there.
So before you go thinking that these little tips will cure your child of all listening issues, then I would caution you.
These tips are more so to help YOU communicate better so your kids will listen.
Also, consider this.
“Before you go looking for solutions to change your child and their behavior, look within and make sure their behavior isn’t a result of something you need to work on as a parent.“
Your child’s behavior is often a direct reflection of your parenting.
Ask yourself, are you showing them enough affection? Do they feel understood in our moments of communication? Do they feel loved and admired for their efforts? Are your interaction with them more critical than positive?
Along with that comes patience (which I know none of us are perfect at) and a profound responsibility to understand who your kids are.
Understanding who your kids are has a lot more to do with listening to them, than them listening to you. So make sure you’re listening to their hearts, listening to understand, and not to respond — this active listening will lay the foundation of healthy communication in your family.
Direct Command vs a Question
When it comes to communication, try stating a command rather than asking questions. For example. “It’s time to take out the trash now, please.” Instead of, “Can you please take out the trash?”
It leaves little reason for them to negotiate and answer your questions with an “I did that yesterday.”
If you’re dealing with a strong-willed child, you might benefit from reading this article, as well as giving them a choice in the matter.
“Do you want water WITH or WITHOUT ice?”
“Drink some water!”
A lot of the time it’s trying different things, and making note of what works. But if yelling works, remember that this is NOT a healthy way to communicate. You will be using fear and manipulation to get obedience, instead of respect and kindness to raise kids who do something because it’s RIGHT, not just because you want them to.
If we are going to expect our children to regulate their emotions, we need to first model how to regulate ours. A lot of successful parenting is summed up into the fact that we need to model the behavior we want to see in our child.
Ask yourself – does my child comprehend what I’m saying?
Can they handle what you’re about to ask them? Have you taught them how to do it? Are they distracted when you ask them?
I remember one time asking my son to “deep clean” his room, assuming he knew what this meant.
I found shoeboxes full of trash stacked neatly under his bed, his clean shirts hung upside down in his closet and all his clean clothes in his dirty hamper.
Sure, he was being a little lazy, but I also didn’t instruct him as to what I meant or show him how to do it.
The more communication on our part as parents, the better.
Kids need to understand the “why” more often than not.
Here are five things you can do to help you communicate, and your kids listen.
If you’re looking for a way to connect with your kids on a deeper level, check out this incredible dinner talk card game – OUR MOMENTS. Conversation starters that will resonate with your kids for emotional bonding and a great neutral way for them to open up to you. With questions like “If you were a superhero, who would you be?” you will find yourself laughing and connecting as a family in a unique way.
How to discipline a child who won’t listen
Discipline comes from the word disciple. It simply means a learner. So when it comes to teaching your children how to listen, discipline is a necessity. Here are a few tips when it comes to healthy discipline, and not just reverting to sending out negative consequences.
- Make sure the consequence fits the offense
Example: Your child doesn’t want to listen when you tell them to brush their teeth. “Okay, but just so you know, if you CHOOSE to not brush your teeth today, you may not have any sugar of any kind.” If they choose not to, allow that. But when they come asking for a snack, even if it’s fruit, remind them of their choice and enforce your boundary.
- Speak kindly and respectfull, making sure you LISTEN to their feelings first. You can say, “I understand this is hard for you. I still can’t let you have a sugary snack unless you make a better choice next time.”
- Follow through on your word. Enforce the boundaries you set or they won’t take you seriously. This can negatively affect the trust being built in the relationship.
- Set your child up for success with this articles advice, instead of waiting for your child to disobey and making that a common occurence.
- When it’s appropriate, give them a second chance! We are human and ALL in need of grace.
- Have regular conversations about the importance of listening and how you can ALL contribute to healthy communication in the home. Ask about how you can help them succeed and listen to understand.
Before you try to get your child to listen, make these simple changes first
Sometimes our children are more apt to listen when they feel connected with us.
For example. Let’s say you work a full-time job. You come home around 5 and start making dinner. After that, you see your children over on their tablets and you say, “It’s time for dinner!”
They don’t listen and after a long period of time, you begin to get frustrated.
You give them numerous warnings.
But that didn’t work, so, you give them a harsh punishment and throw out threats to get them to comply. Before you know it, the tone at the table is affected because you used negative ways to get obedience.
At least you got what you wanted, right?
Well, the problem with that is this. Dinnertime might be very valuable for your family. It’s your time together, and it’s being affected by their disobedience, but more importantly, by your frustration and anger towards your kids.
So that’s not a solution at all.
I would suggest trying this.
BEFORE you set out to make dinner, spend some quality time with your kids doing something THEY want to do. Have some playtime with them, even if it’s 10 minutes. Show your kids you value them, not just desire to feed them.
I guarantee, when you do this, they will be MUCH more willing to listen.
5 tips for getting your kids to listen the first time
1 . Make sure your kids aren’t distracted when you are talking to them.
This could mean a simple, “Hey, can you look at me, so I know you’re listening?” before you begin your question..
2. Comprehension matters – use fewer words and simple phrasing
Back to kids aren’t adults.
Let’s say you ask your 5yo to go clean his room after his show is over. Thirty minutes pass, he turns off the show and then starts playing his legos.
You go up to him in frustration and say that you had asked him to clean his room. He shows disappointment, and says, “Oh yeah. But can I first finish playing legos?” He then continues to try and avoid cleaning his room. You get frustrated, and before you know it, he’s in time out for talking back, and everything is amiss.
There is a way to avoid this situation.
It starts when you asked him to clean his room.
A. He probably wasn’t paying attention because he was watching something. B. Most of the time, 5yo’s don’t have to capacity to remember specific tasks after a certain amount of time (especially boys) and C. Cleaning his room is not the most exciting thing to do so he’s already selectively listening to you.
So what should you do differently? Well, if it were possible, have his reward for cleaning his room be watching a show. But if that wasn’t a viable solution then…
After he turns off the show, get down to his level, make sure he’s looking you in the eyes, and say.
“Hey bud, it’s time to go clean your room. (be simple and clear on what you need from him. Don’t ask. If you ask, it gives them an opportunity to talk back.) How about afterward, we play a game together?” (Offering something to look forward to oftentimes motivates them to achieve their task).
Sometimes, I use a timer, which helps him stay motivated and concentrated on finishing the task.
Now, let’s say you have a 14 yo who is very capable of remembering to clean his room after his show is over.
At that point, if he doesn’t follow through, a consequence is needed since his maturity level is higher and he should know better.
Do you see what I mean by age matters?
3. Talk respectfully and not in a demeaning way – Kids SUCK at listening, but are great at imitating
Just to get it out there, when things get stressful, and we are tired, PMSing (check out what I do to help with PMS), we struggle with communicating in love and not frustration. This article isn’t meant to make you feel like a failure as a parent.
We ALL suck communication sometimes.
So take this as a helpful suggestion, not a judgment.
It’s easy in the heat of the moment to bark commands at your kids. I do it ALL the time. But I realize that when I do that, it affects the way they respond.
If I am kind and respectful in asking my child to do something, then his response is more respectful. If I am short and shrill will my demand, his response is disrespectful, and it takes us a while to get to his doing the task–he ends up in trouble, and I end up angry, yadda yadda yadda.
So I’ve realized that to save us the trouble, we do it right from the get-go, and doing it right starts with me asking or commanding in a respectful way.
“Influence your child’s heart with your affirmation, and not your disapproval. Captivate your child’s heart with your unconditional love, so they don’t think they have to earn it. Understand your child’s heart by listening and not controlling.“
Hillary Gruener – Word From The Bird
That being said, there are certain tools you can implement that help you operate on a level your child needs, and one that will produce results.
Do away with negative commands.
It’s frustrating for anyone to be constantly criticized and commanded around. And most moms amid chaos struggle to remain positive with their words.
But what we need to realize is that our children will respond MUCH better when our commands are positive.
Instead of saying, “don’t hit your brother,” say, “please be gentle with your brother.”
See the difference?
Repetition, Eye Contact, Over Explanation, and Proximity
If you know humans, you know that repetition has proven successful in remembering something.
- Repetition – Kids, especially, need to remember what you have asked of them! The best way to get them to remember is to make eye contact and repeat back what you’ve asked of them.
- If they’re upset or showing they don’t want to listen to what you’re saying, a great way to address is to get down to their level, ask them calmly to look you in the eyes, and then say what you need to say.
- Also, when asking something of them, make sure you’re in close proximity. Nothing good comes of barking orders at someone from another room.
I find that with my toddler, the more I explain about what’s going to happen or what has happened, the better. Gently, and in a calm voice. I swear by it, even when he’s throwing the biggest tantrum.
I wait for him to calm down and ask if I can explain the situation. After he’s calmed down, he accepts what I said, and we move on.
4. Make sure your child is in the right state of mind when you communicate with them
Poor listening can sometimes be a reflection of being in the wrong state of mind. Do you feel off sometimes? Perhaps you didn’t sleep well, or something is on your mind. The same goes for your kids. They will have good days and bad days, so be attentive to that.
Make sure you are having regular sit-downs with your kids to address common concerns, listen to their hearts, and make sure their emotional and mental well-being is okay.
Your kids need connecting points with you to know you care about their feelings and emotions.
Whatever the conversation you have with your child, whether that’s addressing behavior problems or asking them how they feel emotionally, make sure you are attentive to the state of mind they are in.
If my son is showing anger and frustration, I know it’s probably not best to continue our conversation about his misbehavior. He needs a moment to cool down; I need a moment to cool down.
After that, you can address what’s going on. It’s very challenging to figure anything out when anger is fueling the conversation.
MY LIFE JOURNALS are also a great activity to give them when they feel frustrated. It helps them navigate their feelings, and turn their minds to something positive, like what they’re grateful for.
You know your kids more than anyone, so before you get into it, make sure they’re in the right headspace, and also that YOU are as well.
5. Give them rewards (not what you think) when they follow through on something you asked them to do AND on something you didn’t ask them to do
The most glorious moments in parenting are sometimes as simple as your child obeying a boundary, that they normally ignore, without prompting.
For me, this was when my son started putting his backpack in the right bin after school.
Instead of throwing it in the middle of the living room, I showed him the place it belongs.
It took him a while to get this down, and sometimes he still forgets. But he knows that if he doesn’t put his backpack in the right spot, he loses 15 min of video game time from the weekend.
But when he DOES it, without me asking him, I reward him. And I don’t mean reward as in give him a new toy or more video game time. Rewards can quickly become the wrong motivator for our kids to obey.
I more so mean to reward them with your praise and acknowledgment on follow through. This can mean a simple “thank you!”
Sometimes we underestimate the power of kindness and showing appreciation in our parenting.
Check out these other helpful articles on parenting.
When your child immediately responds respectfully and listens to you — in essence, they do exactly what you desire from them — make sure you reward them with your words. You can also surprise them later on with something that means a lot to them.
The greatest rewards have to do with meeting their needs. Let’s say your child feels most loved by words of affirmation. Write them a letter and point out how proud you are of them. But don’t necessarily make it about their performance or behavior, but about who they are as a person. Speak of their character and complement them.
As you desire to get your child to obey, it’s important you don’t only admonish good behavior, but rather WHO they are. You want them to find their worth in THAT and not how they perform.
Do you see the difference between thins and “here’s some candy for listening to me.” This kind of reward often motivated children to obey simply because they want candy, not because it’s the right thing to do.
What happens when they still respond disrespectfully?
Sometimes we can do our best to communicate in love, and do our part in using the tips I provided above, yet STILL, they don’t listen or are disrespectful.
So what then?
This is where I tell you, parenting is hard. You know that. But sometimes if we just accept that our kids won’t be perfect, we can relax a little and stop trying to control them.
But if things are getting heated during communication, here is something you can say to help.
“Why don’t you take a minute to figure out why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling, and then we can meet back in….(a set amount of minutes) and talk about it. I need to do the same”
By both of you simply stepping back and cooling off, you will better communicate because your emotions won’t be heightened.
The older a child gets, the more likely you will have to do this.
I hope these tips will help you and your family start your new journey to healthier communication! Remember, it starts with YOU.
Other helpful tools to nurture a positive home and healthy communication
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Screen Time Protection and Teaching Moderation
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Screen Time Checklist Printable for Kids – FREE if you sign up for our weekly newsletter. Just fill out your info below.
Book List for Kids and Parents
Booklist to teach kids about racial diversity.
Journaling for Kids
When a child is old enough to start drawing, coloring, or writing, journaling is an incredible way to help your kids better express themselves in a free and comfortable way. Check out our Kid’s Printable Journals — created specifically to help children better express their feelings, encourage gratitude, and spark the imagination.
Chores for Kids
Magnetized Chalk Chart for Fridge
Implementing chores and structure in your child’s daily life is a VERY helpful tool to teach them follow through, discipline, and respect. We use this chore chart in our family to help our kids keep track of their own progress, and keep you from having to constantly remind them of their daily tasks.
If you’re looking for something a bit more simple, this is also a good option.
Chore Chart Printable – Get it NOW from the convenience of your own printer
If you’re looking for something you can print out immediately and start implementing chores in your home today, check out this CHORE CHART PRINTABLE. With a Mandalorian theme, it makes for a lighthearted and fun way to encourage kids to do their daily and weekly “missions.”
Emotional Connectivity with Your Kids
Connecting on a deeper level emotionally with your child is CRUCIAL, and sometimes more difficult. We play THIS GAME often in our family to create a safe space for our kids to feel free to share their questions and emotions, all without judgment.
We even offer an “Exemption Time” for the duration of this game, where anything he tells us is off the table for consequences.
Check out these other posts on emotional connectivity on the blog!