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How to Get Kids to Listen

Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Repeating Yourself


"I'd have to take off my socks to count the number of times in a day I have to repeat myself," writes Nicole E., responding to the article How Yelling Cancels Listening. "How does this work for kids who don't listen unless you yell? At the very least, I have to scream their names and then talk . . . but even then, they usually don't listen."

Here's my question to Nicole and others: is it possible that your children perceive your repetitions as warnings that will lead to an ultimatum, rather than as instructions to stop right away?

Keep reading.

Each parent, child, and family is different. That means that no one scenario I describe will address exactly what's going on in your house, but see if this one comes close:

A child does something wrong or annoying, and Dad says, "Stop it!" Then Dad goes back to reading the newspaper. The child doesn't stop. Mom chimes in and says, "Stop it now!" Then Mom goes back to making breakfast. The child still doesn't stop.

The parents continue saying, "Stop it!" two or three more times, adding in dashes of "I mean it!" and "I'm not kidding!" And still, the child doesn't stop.

Then one parent uses the child's full name: "Anthony James!"

Anthony seems to perk up, but still continues. He only stops when he hears: "Stop. It. Right. This. Minute. Anthony. James. Or. Else!"

Sound familiar?

Your "Big Change"

Each parent has a unique way of expressing, "I'm at the end of my rope." Your child has lived with you long enough to observe your behavior in a way that you may not be aware of. In the scenario above, the child has experienced that there will be several requests to "stop it." His cue that Mom is almost at the end of her rope only comes when she calls out his full name. And he knows that she means business when she uses his full name and adds, "Stop it right this minute." Essentially, he's waiting to listen until she does what she's always done: pull out the "big change."

The "change" is different in every household. It could be when you use his full name or raise your voice. It could be when you begin to yell. The "change" could be that Mom has entered the room with an angry look on her face. Or it could be the threat of losing TV, the computer, or getting a time-out. No matter what your change is, your child has been trained by you to wait for it. He won't listen to you until he has to.

Children look at your repeated requests to "stop it" far differently than you do. They think of them as single, random comments in a series. Parents, on the other hand, consider the repeated "stop it" as an extension of one single thought.

What can be done?

What if you moved your action point to the beginning of the situation instead of keeping it at the end?

You. Do. Not. Wait.

Most parents tend not to take action until they're at the end of their rope. You want your children to listen to you the first time, but you've taught them that they don't have to listen until the end.

The way to teach a child to listen the first time you say something is to show them, consistently, that you'll take action the minute they don't listen. So if your "change" is to put your child in time-out, do so as your first action, not as your last resort. If it's to speak firmly, do that right away. You. Do. Not. Wait.

It's true you'll have to stop what you're doing, get up, and take action. But it won't be forever.

Changing the timing of your action will have a profound effect on your child and will most likely change things almost immediately. Your firmness stands out because it is not clouded by yelling. This is a far better way to increase listening, allows you to remain calm, and is how you go from reacting to responding.

As with all parenting advice, you're the one who knows your child best. There is no such thing as a "one method" that fits all children and all situations. Give this a try and see if it works.

Feel free to comment and let me know how this works for you. And if you have a topic you'd like to see addressed, put that in the comments, too.

Sharon Silver is a parenting educator and the founder of Proactive Parenting. She's also the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.

Image Source: Shutterstock
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Join The Conversation
KarenApplin KarenApplin 3 years
I really like the idea of this...now, whether or not I am able to change my reactions in order to change my son's behaviors, that is the question.
AlisonKlein AlisonKlein 3 years
My change seems to be screaming at the top of my lungs.... Not sure I can do this first. I would be yelling all the time!!! Good theory though...
BrendaGwara BrendaGwara 3 years
im going to try this one!!!
CoMMember13631162792256 CoMMember13631162792256 3 years
We go one step further with the useless repetitions by throwing in a threat of an outrageous consequence the kids know we won't follow through on, "Stop it right now or we're cancelling your birthday!'
MellissaJeffery MellissaJeffery 4 years
I do this and it works well for me. An earllier comment said there is no room for the kid to be there own person and I disagree. When you ask them the first time and wait a few seconds till they do what they are told that gives them plenty of room to make up there mind. By going up to them right away and makeing sure they do what they are told all that teaches them is not to procrastinate and get things done right away. My son is 2 and a half. When he was 23 months I asked him to put his toys away when he didnt I when up to him and gently grabed his hand and got him to pick them up and put them away. From that point on he new he had to put stuff away before moving on to the next activity.
JenniferLowell82971 JenniferLowell82971 4 years
I've got 2 children, boys!! 2 & 4 years old. neither ''like'' to listen! The immediate time out usually works if I'm willing to get up, so I know that it's me slowing the progress down! I actually got to a breaking point when I found myself FEELING my blood pressure raising as I was ''dealing'' with the little angels!! lol. so now I've restricted yelling in my house, by me at least. now if they're doing ANYTHING they're not supposed to, straight to time out, no warnings, no butt smacks, nothing but ''Time Out, NOW!'' My 2 year old huff's n puff's the entire time but he sits there, for the most part!! I actually want to thank you for this post! I've got a few relatives who state that their child(ren) are PERFECT and my children are ''Completely, 100%, Uncontrollable'' I don't talk to them any more!! But I'm sharing this for the simple statement of EVERY CHILD, HOUSE, IS DIFFERENT! I just wish every one would realize this!! This relative was constantly putting her child on time out at my son's birthday party, yelling at her and at the same time, insulting me as a mother!! This article gives me hope of my hair growing back! These method's you've mentioned are exactly what I've been doing with my children and my 4 year old hasn't been in trouble in 3 days!! It's been nice! lol. Thank you!!
TanisJohnson TanisJohnson 4 years
I heard this from someone else about a month ago, and it works! I make sure my kids know what the punishment will be beforehand. Then the next time they don't stop, I carry out the punishment immediately, without any other warning. When I ask them why they were punished, they tell me it's because they didn't stop when I asked them. Since doing this, the incidents of having to enact the punishment have been less and less because they know that they don't have umpteen chances anymore. Great parenting advice.
RobinPorter56935 RobinPorter56935 4 years
Once I start yelling, I know that I can get really carried away, so I've been using a 1, 2, 3 method I've read about. When my 3 1/2 yr old does not listen, I simply say 'Thats 1', if she continues the behavior I say 'Thats 2', and if she gets to 3 - she gets a time out in her room. It really helps me control my temper & stay calm. And this gives her a chance to correct her own behavior - which I like. It's really so easy & it works great for us. Most times I do not get past 1 because she knows that I mean business & will take action. My daughter doesn't listen as well to her dad, & I think it's because he'll start the counting & then not follow through w/ the time out. Just wanted to share... maybe it could help someone.
kellysluder62529 kellysluder62529 4 years
This is so true. I feel as though i go through cycles with this exact thing. I will yell more frequently and let things go without specific disipline. Just repremanding verbely for weeks and then have a personal melt down. Feeling like the house is chaos and im a bad mom who yells to much. Then i say things need to change and make a consious change with in myself. Usually will set in motion rewards programs and specific disapline guid lines that i will follow completely. The children respond right away. The house goes back to the nice stuction happy enviroment. Im happier for a couple months. Then thing slide off course and i repeat the whole thing agian.
SharonSilver SharonSilver 4 years
Mariam Afzak - I need to know how old your child is before I can suggest what to do. Karen O'Brien - Thank you. :) Lisa Jones - I sent you a message. I wanted to mention, so some of you don't feel left out, that there isn't enough time to answer all your questions, that would be a full time job! For some of you the answer is simple and direct. For others the answer is multi-layered and that's why I haven't addressed the issues. I want to help, not send a answer without knowing all the details of what you're facing. Keep reading and hopefully something I say in one of the articles will be just what you need to hear to begin unlocking what's going in your life. Also, shameless plug coming, don't forget the book and audio seminars at Proactive Parenting, they are filled with details that may help. Parenting is complex, there's NOT one answer that fits all situations. Each of you had your own experiences as a child that are now coming full circle and shaping how you parent. Stay tuned. Feel free to tell me in the comments what you wish I would write about. Have a good weekend.
MariamAfzak MariamAfzak 4 years
I have really benefitted from the articles & particularly this one. It has indeed built an insight to how kids perceive our reactions. I also have a question: My daughter seems to be making alot of FUSS if she is not allowed to do what she wants to. She would literally cry for an hour after any such incident. Until her attention does not get distracted by something else. Will this fade out with time or is there anything I can do?
NicoleNewman69347 NicoleNewman69347 4 years
I have an 8 year old boy and a 3 year old girl, both of which ignore me, i'm a single mum, so don't have a partner to turn to. I will give this method a try. Ignoring is the main problem i have with my children.
dawnstephens50379 dawnstephens50379 4 years
my 7 year and 3 year old dont listen to nothing we say .they have learned the lines to push,how do you get out of it without beating them.when we threaten our son with a belt he says so whip me with it it wont hurt and when my husband does he just laughs at him so what are we suppose to do please help any and all suggestions are needed
KarenOBrien42921 KarenOBrien42921 4 years
Wow I am really surprised at some of the negative feedback from this article. I found it to have some very valid points and to respond to a couple posters- I disagree that teaching our children to listen to us is equivalent to raising robots. If we, as the parents, do not teach our children that there are rules and consequences how can we expect them to grow up and be successful? There are countless ways in which children can express their individuality without defying their parents. I don't believe that the message here was to not allow our kids to have minds of their own; but rather to take the responsibility of teaching them right from wrong in a healthy manner- one that doesn't involve screaming. Instead of shooting down the advice, why not actually try it first? Really, if your not going to give the suggestions a chance then why bother reading them?
LisaJones22934 LisaJones22934 4 years
I have 3 and 5 year old boys. My 5 year old in particular constantly ignores us especially my husband. I was wondering if you could message me on facebook? Thanks!
DeannaFoley DeannaFoley 4 years
My child is 5 and he has tantrum issues where he cry's alot. We usually always send him immediatly to his room for a time out. He knows he can come out when he's done crying. It only helps temporaily, then he's right back in therer again and again. I dont want him to feel unloved or abandoned??
MaryKorndoerfer MaryKorndoerfer 4 years
We started a one chance rule with my son. He would do things that he knows are wrong. We would say. That was your one chance. Most of the time it works. We are still in the development stage with him on this. But if you set strict guidelines and hold your children to them they will respond. Just realize that you are the one in charge, not them.
JenniferOverby JenniferOverby 4 years
I had trouble with my oldest daughter a few years ago. She was at the point of yelling telling me she hated me and hitting me. We went to councling and even though she still has a few issues, she is a whole different child!! They taught me the 2 choice rule..... When a child needs to do something say for example blowing bubbles in their drink, instead of saying stop it you say, you have 2 choices you can stop blowing bubbles in your drink OR you can be done with your drink. This way the child is making the choice and it is not a power struggle but either choice they make leads to the end of the behavior. After they make the choice praise them for making a good decision to encourage good behavior in the future. Also you have to follow though EVERY time. I hope this helped.
LisaTooke LisaTooke 4 years
Any advice on a child that is OD?
StephanieGeorge50955 StephanieGeorge50955 4 years
I may have to try it this way because often I won't get up until I'm absolutely fed up so perhaps trying it this way will work better
TiffanyZellar TiffanyZellar 4 years
Thank you!
SharonSilver SharonSilver 4 years
Kelly Blackwell- what I'm about to say will bring you no comfort-welcome to the Tweens! That behavior is 100% on target for the age group. My best recommendation is to ignore it. If you go for it, and correct it, he will roll his eyes again and again. This is the time in childhood that I'm working very hard to prepare parents for by focusing my parenting advice on the early childhood years. By the time they hit the tweens they have turned their gaze to their peers. It is no longer "cool" to listen to a parent. Look at it like the developmental results of being a tween, just like tantrums are the developmental results of being 2. You set your rules, you follow through, and keep handling things the way you always have. Believe it or not you're his source of normal and strength. He will return to his former self now and then. Hang in there it's easy to get emotional during these times. If you need some ideas of where to turn from here, send me an email.
NildaDescartin NildaDescartin 4 years
Thank you.This may apply to my 9 yr old son..who is copying the not-so-nice attitudes of his classmates.
jessicafindley31636 jessicafindley31636 4 years
im most deff gonna have to try this on my 2
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