Parenting Solutions That Get Kids to Listen

by Dr. Michele Borba

Boy trying to tune his mom out

Do you feel as though your child is tuning you out?

"Why don't you listen?" "That's the fourth time I told you!" "Didn't you hear anything I just said?"

If you're frustrated in trying to get your kid to listen, take heart: you're not alone. Parents magazine polled moms and dads about their toughest discipline challenge, and the hands-down winner was "My kid doesn't listen to me."

The fact is, learning to give directions so kids will listen takes practice. But improving your kid's listening skills will benefit every arena of his life-from improving his school performance, relations with friends, job performance, as well as family harmony.

Here are a few solutions adapted from my new book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries to help improve your child's listening skills:

• Attention first, then talk. If your kid is not listening, first get her attention and make sure she's looking at you before you speak. "Please, look at me and listen to what I have to say." Give your request when you're eyeball to eyeball. You're more likely to have your child's full attention.

• Lower your voice and speak slower. Nothing turns a kid off faster then yelling, so do the opposite: talk softer not louder. Or try even whispering. It usually catches the kid off guard and he stops to listen.

• Keep it short, sweet and to the point. Tailor your directions to your child's attention span and cognitive abilities. Make sure you tell your child exactly what you want him to do. "Please make your bed before you go outside." Or: "You need to get ready to go to school now."

• Limit your words. Limiting your request to fewer words also helps. Sometimes saying one word does the trick: "Homework!" or "Chores!" Be sure you don't phrase your request as a question or a suggestion. If you want your child to comply then tell, don't ask.
• Get active. If time is of the essence or your child needs you to "jump start" him into action, don't say anything. Just gently grab his hand and take him to where you want him to go.

• Give a little leeway. Wait until you see your child is a little less engaged in the task. Then say your request. Just ensure that your child doesn't take advantage of the situation. (If he appears legitimately engrossed in an activity, give a time limit: "I need your attention in a minute."

• Say it once! Make a pledge that you will not repeat yourself. Once you say your request and you're sure your child understands (you can ask him to repeat what you just said), then expect your child to listen and comply each and every time.

You've tried better communication techniques and refined how you give directions. You've taken into account your child's age or attention span and considered whether he has any kind of a hearing loss. Now consider another option: The child is blatantly choosing not to listen to you. This is a matter of noncompliance or disrespect and it's a whole different behavior makeover.


Michele Borba, Ed.D. is an educational psychologist, TODAY contributor, mom, and award-winning author of 23 books. This article is an excerpt from her latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass). Check out:   or follow her on twitter @micheleborba.   

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