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How to Get Your Kids to Listen to You (And Do What You Say)
You may be familiar with this vicious cycle: you tell your kid to do something, he doesn’t listen, so you repeat yourself again, and he still doesn’t listen. You continue to repeat yourself until you’re yelling or making threats to take things away from him.
This causes you to get more and more worked up as he continues not to listen. Finally, one of you gives in… and it’s oftentimes not your kid!
Well, as a former child therapist turned stay-at-home mommy, I am here to tell you that there are some simple, gentle methods you can use to get your child to listen and follow your instructions.
The techniques below will help you give your child commands or prompts effectively so that he’ll be more likely to listen.
As with any parenting technique, it may take a few weeks of using these tips consistently in order to see results. But before you know it, your child will be listening in no time. Start doing these things early because the vicious cycle of power struggles may only get worse once your child hits those teenage years!
Steps to Getting Your Child to Listen:
1. Decide how you’ll present the task.
You don’t always have to present your request as a prompt or command. But rather, sometimes it helps your child feel as though he has some control when you present your request as a challenge or with options.
When presenting your request as a challenge, you might say, “I wonder if I can do the dishes faster than you can pick up your blocks.” If you know your child responds well to these kinds of challenges, then this can be a way of making tasks more fun while getting him to listen.
When presenting your request with options, you want to be sure to give equal options. For instance, you might say, “Would you like to clean up blocks first or your cars first?” You don’t want to give your child an option like, “Do you want to pick up your blocks now or in 20 minutes?” In this case, your child will be likely to choose the latter and keep delaying the task.
2. Ensure your child’s understanding.
Instead of telling your child to do something and then leaving the room, first make sure that he’s set up for success. Here are some ways to make sure that your child understands what’s being asked of him.
- Reduce distractions, such as by turning off the television or video games.
- Get down to your child’s level and try to establish eye contact.
- Use your child’s name.
- Tell your child what you want him to do, NOT what he should not do.
- For example, you might say, “Pick up your blocks” instead of “Stop making a mess.”
- Keep directions short and simple. Don’t get into explaining why you need your child to complete the task, as this can distract or confuse your child.
- Be sure to phrase the command as a firm demand rather than a question (you can use the word “please”).
- Have your child repeat the command back to you to ensure that he knows what to do.
- If the task requires multiple steps, consider giving your child one or two steps at a time, based on his developmental level. You can also use a visual checklist to help with multi-step directions or use a behavior chart if your child could benefit from some additional reinforcement.
- You can get my FREE Reward Chart Bundle, which comes with 5 different charts, here:
3. Ensure your child’s follow-through.
Many times, parents will tell a child to do something and come back 10 minutes later to find that he hasn’t started the task. Therefore, after you’ve ensured that your child understands the command, you want to make sure that your child is following through with it. Be sure to:
- Identify a reasonable period of time in which you’d like the task to be completed or worked on. Consider setting a timer or using a clock to help with this.
- Give your child 5 seconds to begin the task, and don’t leave him until he has started the task.
- Then, be sure to check on your child frequently to ensure that he’s following through with the task.
4. Praise or punish accordingly.
Praise your child for starting the task, and give praise and encouragement along the way in order to keep your child going. See my post on how to praise your child effectively here: Do’s and Don’ts for Praising Your Child and Increasing Good Behavior.
Have a plan in mind as to how you’re going to reinforce your child for following through with the task (i.e. verbal praise, TV time). Note that if your child responds rather well to praise, then you don’t need to use too many rewards. This will help keep your child from becoming dependent on rewards.
Finally, be sure to have a plan for the consequences your child will face if he doesn’t listen. If your child generally feels as though he has a little bit of control, however, you might not need to enforce consequences as much. That’s because you won’t have as many power struggles. (Related Post: 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Disciplining Your Child)
P.S. Spending regular quality time with your child is a great way to give your child control in a healthy way.
Final Notes on Getting Your Child to Listen
If you and your child have become used to the vicious cycle mentioned above, then it may take a few weeks for you both to get used to this new regimen. However, if you stick with it, then getting your kid to do what you say will no longer be a battle!
If you tried these techniques out, but your child still won’t listen to your commands, then I have some extra tips for you. Take my FREE 5-day course:
What does your child have a hard time following through with?
Disclaimer: Although I was a therapist, I am not your therapist or your child’s therapist. Reading this post does not enter you into a client-therapist relationship with me. The content in this post is meant to be used as a general guideline and has not been individually tailored to the needs of you and your child. If you are in need of therapeutic services, please seek the support of a mental health counselor or behavior specialist.
References: My information comes from years of training on Applied Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and other evidence-based techniques. I also like to refer to Russell Barkley (Defiant Children) and Alan Kazdin (Parent Management Training).