5 Strategies for Dealing with a Child Who Won't Listen

Don't let your child tune you out.
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It’s not that your child is deliberately trying to ignore you. With all the distractions in the world, it’s more likely that your little one (or your teenager!) is simply too focused on all that’s going on around her to pay attention to you.

Refusing to listen to you is also a way that your child can exert his or her independence--or it might be a habit she learned from you. If you’re about to pull your hair out because you can’t handle asking your child to feed the dog one more time, take a deep breath and implement a few methods that might open your child’s eyes (and ears) to the importance of listening.

1. Check Your Tone of Voice

Don’t be ashamed if you’ve resorted to yelling at your child after the third reminder to put on his shoes. However, raising your voice isn’t the most effective strategy to change your young one’s behavior.

Instead, use a tone that is firm but respectful; you want to convey a command versus a polite request. Then, ask your child to repeat the instruction back to you to ensure that he’s heard you.

2. Provide Clear Instructions

Every parent has likely used the “question-command” at one point or another.  “Do you want to put on your shoes now?” “Are you ready to go to bed?” “Is it time to clean up your toys?” Take a wild guess as to what the answers to those questions are going to be--if they even acknowledge the questions at all.

Give effective instructions by clearly stating what you want your child to do. “Put on your shoes now.” “Brush your teeth and get ready for bed.” “Put the toys back in their places.”

Avoid giving overly complex instructions, particularly if you’re talking to a young child. Rather than telling your preschooler that she needs to clean up her toys because grandma is coming over and you want the house to be neat for her, you should just say “put the toys away.”

3. Add a Visual Cue

It’s easier for a kid to ignore your voice than a physical or visual cue that you’re talking.

When you tell your child it’s bedtime, give the light switch a quick on-and-off. Even if he ignores your words, he can’t ignore the lights flickering. He’ll eventually associate that flickering with the direction to head to bed.

4. Be a Little Silly

Consider the possibility that your child may be tuning you out because, well, you’re boring. Children tend to ignore the mundane and focus on things that excite them (such as that new animated movie that’s on TV).

Get his attention by yelling out something a little kooky such as “Listen, giggle bear!” or “Hey, peanut butter breath!” Hearing you say something a little off-the-wall will instantly catch their attention.

5. Express Gratitude

You want your children to appreciate all you do for them, right? Then you should exhibit the same gratitude in return. After all, if they’re walking the dog and setting the table, that means you don’t have to. Explain that their contributions to the household make a difference, and you really rely on them to play their part in the family.

When a child knows his efforts are appreciated, he’s more likely to listen the first time you tell him to do it. So offer praise and words of appreciation when your child is helping out.

Training your child to listen to you isn’t going to be an overnight thing. Be patient as you try to help your child learn the importance of listening the first time you speak. And recognize that tuning you out sometimes is normal behavior for kids.  

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