How to Get Kids to Listen: 9 Tips to End the Frustration

Published June 16, 2021
Mother sitting on sofa holding hands and talking with son

"These kids don't listen!" If you haven't said these words at least once during your parenting journey, are you even a parent? Dynamic young children don't always do what's asked of them, and adults can find it extremely frustrating when kids don't listen. Knowing how to get kids to listen will make life easier for everyone.

Replace Don't With Do

Parents often fall into a cycle of using the word "don't." In an attempt to tell kids to cease a negative behavior, they repeatedly tell them what NOT to do. This makes sense to an adult, but it can be perplexing for children. They must first consider what they are not to do, and then they have to muse over what they should be doing instead. Parents can eliminate this confusion by skipping the "don't" altogether and getting straight to the "do." These examples illustrate how a parent can turn negative speech into positive speech to help get kids to listen better and perform a positive task.

  • Replace "Don't run in the house." with "Please walk in our home."
  • Replace "Don't hit your sister." with "Please try to use gentle touches with your family and friends."
  • Replace "Don't throw dirty clothes on the floor." with "Please put your dirty clothes in the laundry hamper."

Make Time for Yes

Parents say "no" a lot. Kids ask a million random questions every single day. From simple requests like if they can paint to irrational requests like can they buy a pet pony and house him in the basement? These questions will burn holes into even the most patient and reflective parent's brain; and suddenly it simply becomes easier to say no. Overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted parents resort to "no" because it's easier and it provides finality to the conversation.

When kids hear "no" over and over again, they stop listening to what you ask of them. After all, you aren't really listening to their requests, right? This doesn't mean you have to say yes to everything they ask. That isn't going to happen, but you can work the illusion of "yes" into your responses.

When your child asks if they can go to the pool on a Wednesday morning, and you can't make it happen, don't just say "no" and let that be the end of it. Consider responding with a phrase like:

  • "That sounds so fun. Let's do it this weekend so daddy can come too!"
  • "I love the pool too! It might be a nice way to end this day after I finish up my work."
  • "If we go tomorrow, we can ask a friend to come along."

Want Them to Listen? Keep It Short

You ask your child to do something, and they ignore your request. You immediately sit them down and launch into a full-blown lecture about why they should listen, what can happen when they don't, and why you asked them to do a task in the first place. These long, drawn-out conversations are surefire ways to get kids' eyes to glaze over and their brains to check out completely. They are done before you ever hit the meat and potatoes of the lecture. Now they aren't listening to your request, AND they aren't listening to your follow-up discussion. This becomes a waste of time and energy.

It's fine to work in teachable moments when kids ignore your asks, but keep your follow-ups short and concise. If you want them to listen to anything you say, don't lose them in the verbiage.

Young girl sitting on kitchen counter talking to father

Get Everyone in Listening Mode

Every parent finds themselves yelling out marching orders from across the house to their kids. Chances are, they will tune you right out when you tell them to do something in this manner. If you want your kids to take your requests seriously, then make sure everyone is in listening mode. Be face to face with your child when you ask them to do something. Get down on their level and make eye contact with them. Consider pairing a gentle physical touch, like a light hand on the shoulder or wrist, with your words to indicate a connection is being made.

Connection Is Key to a Respectful Relationship

Connection is key to a respectful relationship where two people choose to listen to one another's requests and execute them. Make sure you are building time into your relationship with your child to create meaningful connections. Notice what they do, comment on it, and provide positive praise and feedback when necessary. When children feel connected to the adults in their lives, they are more open and receptive to their influences.

Model Effective Listening Skills

Kids learn from the adults in their lives, and they don't just learn from their words; they learn from observing their actions. If you want your kids to be active listeners, then be sure to be an active listener yourself. Show kids that you have good listening skills. When hearing them out, be sure to:

  • Stay calm during heated discussions.
  • Be empathetic to their requests.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Wait until kids are finished talking to respond.
  • Make sure you heard them correctly by using the phrase, "So what I hear you saying is..."

The more you demonstrate that you can be a respectful listener, the more your children will do the same.

Mother and son eating and talking at dining table

Know Why They Aren't Listening for Other Reasons

You ask your child over and over to do things, and those things simply aren't happening. You don't get a sense of defiance. They show no signs of wanting to engage in a classic power struggle, so what is happening here? The short answer is, it could be nothing. Or there could be many reasons why your kid isn't listening. If your child doesn't seem to listen consistently, consider the following:

  • Can they hear me properly?
  • Are they having trouble processing what I am asking?
  • Do they understand the language I am using?
  • Do they struggle with multi-step directions? Do I see a pattern here?

Really delve into what is creating a wall with the listening skills. If you feel that something is going on that is more complex than a behavioral element of not listening, reach out to a trusted professional, discuss your concerns, and explore possible avenues as to why listening is being thwarted.

Offer Choices

Sometimes choices are not an option. Kids have to do what they are asked. However, sometimes offering choices is a powerful tool that can be used towards helping kids listen and execute tasks asked of them. When possible, give your kids the power to pick between two choices. Make sure whichever one they choose is a choice that you can live with. Kids will feel empowered by having some say, and you will feel like they're doing something you asked.

Instead of saying, "Pick up your toys." You can say, "Could you please pick up your toys or put your clothes away." Both are chores that need to be done. Sometimes you have to be happy with one thing getting checked off the to-do list.

Let Natural Consequences Take Hold

You have told your teenager repeatedly to bring their laundry upstairs from their basement bedroom so that you can kindly wash it and have their soccer uniform ready to go by tomorrow. You are such a good parent for doing this mundane chore for them! The only problem is, they never bring the basket with the stinky clothes up to you. You can continuously ask them to bring the basket to you, you can get it yourself, or you can create a punishment for not listening.

Oooooooor, you can leave natural consequences to do what they do best. Let their dirty clothes sit in the basement. Tomorrow their uniform will stink at soccer practice. Your kid might be self-conscious and mad as a hornet at you for not doing their wash, but they will probably think harder about listening to your request next time you ask them to bring the laundry up.

There's No Magic Wand for Getting Kids to Listen

There's no magic wand or secret password for making all the pieces fall into place at once to improve kids' listening. Listening is the type of skill that kids need to practice consistently to improve. Model good listening yourself, use tips that have proven effective in helping children grow into better listeners, and be patient. In doing those three things, your children will be well on their way to listening to you and others.

How to Get Kids to Listen: 9 Tips to End the Frustration