Getting your kids to LISTEN!

Getting your kids to listen to you the first time you make a request is a tricky thing for any parent. It takes a lot of consistency, patience and effort on your part to build a good listening habit in your household.


Well for starters, parents need to know that listening is a two way street and children will more often than not mimic what you do rather than listen to what you say. So if you keep interrupting them when they are trying to tell you a story, guess what will happen when you are trying to explain something to them? Yelling also, doesn’t help solve this problem. When you yell at a child it immediately frightens them and their automatic response is to shut down and tune you out. Children who are constantly yelled at often become aggressive, depressed and/or lack self-esteem. It also teaches them that only when Mummy or Daddy yell do they now mean what they said.

Children also lack peripheral awareness which means they often do not notice what is happening around them when they are engrossed in a certain activity. This includes you talking to them about a certain task. Having a better understanding of your child will make it easier for you to effectively communicate with each other.

So how can one get their kids to listen?

1) Get their attention: Before giving instructions to you child make sure you have their attention. This is through going to the room where they are to avoid having to yell. You can then start by commenting on the cartoon they are watching to help build a connection, for example “wow that car is going fast”; followed by a gently tap on the shoulder so that they look at you and then give your instructions. Bear in mind that eye contact is very key; so for younger kids you can even kneel down so that your eyes are at the same level, it will help hold their attention to what you are saying. Mentioning their name also helps grab their attention and lets them know the instructions are for them. For example, “John, kindly clear the table after lunch”.

2) Give firm, simple and warm toned instructions: It is important to stay calm when you talk to your kids and avoid using too many words which might confuse them. If you are leaving them a to-do list for the day, writing down the task and placing them somewhere visible will work better than expecting your child to remember everything you said. After you have given your instructions, ask your child to repeat what you just asked them to do. If they get it right, praise them by saying “yes that’s right, thank you for listening”. Praising

good behaviour encourages good behaviour.

You can also offer options, such as “if you want to go play outside you will need to put on your shoes. Which one will you like to wear, the green one or the beige?” This gives some control to your child making them feel comfortable and more cooperative.

3) Consistency, consistency, consistency: It is important to let your kids know beforehand what is expected on them. This gives them time to process and carry you’re your request. For example, if your child always goes to bed at 7pm then even if they are watching a cartoon subconsciously they now that it is almost bed time and will begin to prepare mentally. So when you give them the 5 minute notice it is not meet with a lot of resistance. In addition, actions have consequences so if you have given a consequence to a given action (or none action) it is up to you to follow through. For example, “if you keep leaving your clothes on the floor they won’t get washed”. After 2 warnings, the next time they leave their clothes on the floor, don’t wash them.

Another way to enforce consistency is through asking questions that initiate a positive action; for example:        Mom: What do we do after we finish our dinner?
Child: We take our plate to the kitchen.
Mom: That’s right, good girl.
(And your child will happily take their plate to the kitchen.)

That being said it is important not to confuse consistency with being too strict. An extra 5 – 10 minutes of TV time should be fine once in a while. It shows your kids you are considerate and open to their feelings.

4) Give them room to carry out your request: After you have made your request and are certain that they understood you, give your child some space to carry it out. Remember that your task to you is just as important as your child’s show is to them. Unless it is absolutely urgent, give them some room to carry it out but within limits, for example during breakfast you could ask them to make sure they have cleaned the house by 3 pm since you will be having guest coming over at 5 pm. This helps them learn how to manage their own time properly.

If you notice a task still hasn’t been done, find out why before jumping to the conclusion that it was out of disobedience. Then request you child to do it now. Most parents are tempted to just do the task themselves to save on time, but all this does it teach your child that your requests can be ignored as you will just do it yourself.

5) Let your instructions be in line with your child’s ability: For example, toddlers are usually very active and curious. If you expect them to sit somewhere for hours without moving then you are only creating unnecessary conflict. Try a different approach like carrying a fun toy for them to play with or keeping harmful items out of reach.

As you take into account the above guidelines, remember to always validate your child’s feelings as you communicate with them. For example, “I know this cartoon is your favourite but you need to go to bed so that you’re not too tired in the morning. Tell you what, you can watch it as you have your breakfast tomorrow”. Taking into account your child’s feelings makes it easier for them to listen to what you are saying and trust that you have their best interest at heart.

Do you have any additional tips or guidelines you wish to share? Kindly post them on the comment section below.

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