So your child won’t listen? Here’s what to do…

We’ve all been there – you’ve asked your child to do something a bajillion times and it’s as if they are as deaf as a doorpost. After the nth time, we lose our rag, then instantly feel terrible for doing so. It can be totally exasperating when your child won’t listen to you. But the good news is, when your child won’t listen there are actually a few tricks you can try to get them to switch their listening ears on – hurrah! So to help with this age old parenting problem, I have Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright – the authors of probably one of the most useful parenting books I have read in recent times Now Say This: the right words to solve every parenting dilemma here on the blog today in this Q&A about what to do when your child won’t listen.

child won't listen

I hear a lot of parents complaining about their child not listening – why do you think this is?

I think it’s because we’re busy people and sometimes everyone in the family has competing needs and agendas. It’s a natural part of a complex family system!

When a child is not listening are they really just being naughty, or is there something else going on? If so…what?

Kids don’t misbehave (it’s true, promise!), they’re actually well-intentioned people trying to figure out the world and working on developmental skills. When we flip our thinking from our kids being “bad” to our kids being good little people figuring out a big world, it’s easier to see them with empathy and to guide them (rather than reprimand them).

How much of this is about the child not listening, and how much is about how the parent is speaking to them?

Some kids are harder to reach than others. Certain kids are easily distracted or have a harder time listening. But a parents tone and body language goes a long way!

What should a parent do when their child is not listening to them?

The first step in getting kids to listen to us if for us to listen to them. Go over to where they are, kneel down, acknowledge what they’re doing: “wow, that tower you’re building is super high, I can see why it’s hard to stop,” before stating your request again: “It’s time to come to the table for dinner now.”

When we take the time to pause, attune to how they feel or what skills they’re working on, then it’s easier for them to take in our directions. This is how you create a dynamic that is collaborative, rather than adversarial. Think of the family as a team (you’re the captain, but you all work together, understand, and support each other).

child won't listen

What is your view about discipline and rewards when getting a child to listen?

Punishments and rewards can certainly “work” in the short term, but they don’t teach children anything meaningful or long lasting. Punishments can create a feeling of shame, or get kids to just behave when someone’s watching. Rewards actually decrease motivation over the long term.

Can you share some wording parents can try out in common scenarios to help their child listen to them better?

“I see you’re having a hard time getting to the bath — you don’t feel like stopping your game and getting in. I totally get it! (Attune step) It is time for bath now and we do have to get clean (Limit setting step) Let’s see…should we sing our favorite song while we hop in, or maybe do some bubbles?” (Problem solving step)

Have a family meeting in which you ask everyone “how is the morning going for you?” or “I’m noticing that the house gets very messy by the end of the day, who has ideas for what we could do?” Listen to each person, have someone take notes, and circle the ideas that work best. Make sure family meetings are not tsk-tsk, you did something wrong and now we’re calling a family meeting about it, but rather a time for each person in the family to share ideas and brainstorm together. It’s a collaboration.

If you had to give a pep talk to my readers right now about getting their children to listen what parting words would you leave them with?

Great question! Believe that your children DO want to listen, that they are good people, that they want to be part of the team, that they are capable, and that they’re empathic little creatures who want to do the right thing. If you think this way, you will interact with them this way, and they will come along. Really give your kids the feeling that you are listening too, not just dictating. The family is a team.

So there you have it – how to talk to your children so they will listen! But honestly, I have just finished reading Now Say This:the right words to solve every parenting dilemma and can truly say that is has changed the way I have been communicating with my daughter. I have already implemented so many of the strategies and wording suggested in the book (yes it includes lots of word for word examples – amazing!), and I can vouch for how effective these are.  Anything that means I don’t have to repeat myself a bajillion times day gets a massive thumbs up in this household!

Do you find your child won’t listen? What do you think of the advice above? Do leave a comment and share.

If you found this information useful you can also download the Parenting Hero app which was developed together with Julie King and Joanna Faber, authors of another popular parenting book – How to talk so kids will listen – to support you in your parenting decisions.


Get your copy of Now Say This: the right words to solve every parenting dilemmA here

child won't listen

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  1. This is so interesting – it’s true that when you look at your children trying to discover the world rather then being ‘naughty’ it makes it a lot easier to help them 🙂

  2. I found this really interesting. I often think my daughter is listening but then I go back about 5 minutes later as I always think there’s something she wants to say or an underlying issue that needs discussing

  3. I found this really interesting. Our younger son is 3 and often won’t listen. We’ve tried all these tips, but they just don’t work on him. He’s super stubborn. His older brother was very different at that age, and still is. The two of them are a prime example of nature versus nurture, since we have raised them the same.

  4. I have to say I agree with all of this. Both of my two are great listeners but only if I adapt my parenting to each other them. Both are easily distracted but in different ways, one is a day dreamer and the other has a busy mind. Ellie needs a really gentle nurturing approach but Trixie requires a quick shout of her name to get her to focus on the job in hand and then she is great at getting things done and concentrating. But if I get it the worng way round then hysteria descends.

  5. I found this really interesting. I’m often trying to explain that my kiddo isn’t naughty and he simply gets a bit lost half way through an activity or whatever, but I didn’t know quite how to phrase it. Definitely going to share this as I think it’ll help a lot of people, if nothing more, some people will at least understand their child’s behaviour a bit better.

  6. This was an interesting post. I’ve found in my 16 years of motherhood though that all children even siblings are completely different and respond to different things. My 2nd and 4th children would/do relate to the advice but my 1st and 3rd wouldn’t and don’t.

  7. I really struggle with Monkey so I was really interested to read this. I am going to be checking myself now to see how I am phrasing things and if I give him enough time. As I think I am far too impatient!

  8. I did find this interesting and somethings do and don’t work. Kids push the boundaries to see what they can get away with. My daughter is doing that and we have set clear boundaries and they work when she knows we stick to them.

    John M

  9. This is one brilliant post, made me think… I could not agree more with everything you are saying. We should try and put ourselves in your child’s shoes. What does it feel like when the others do not get what I say? What does it feel like when they do not listen to what I say? And when they punish me when I try and express myself? I know it is hard to think straight sometimes (trust me , I have twins :)), but if we try and empathise with our children on a deeper level rather than yell at them, it will make a big difference for them as for us xxx

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