What to Do When Your Child Is Not Listening to You


Imagine for a moment you are at the park. Two boys are playing on the slide, their parent is standing twenty feet away chatting with a friend. The boys slide down headfirst.  Their mom turns to them and shouts, “Go down on your bottom first, you could get hurt if you go headfirst. Then she continues the conversation with her friend. The boys climb to the top of the slide and come down headfirst. Mom fumes, “They never listen to me! They are so disrespectful.” Then she yells at them, “I told you to stop going down headfirst!” Immediately, she feels terrible because now her sons are not listening to her AND she just yelled at them, even though she promised herself she was not going to do it. 

Fortunately, it is possible to get your children to listen without having to yell at them. The key lies in YOUR own behavior. A few slight changes in what YOU do, will change what they do!  Let’s take a look. 

Same scenario, but this time when mom sees the boys go down headfirst, she excuses herself from her friend, goes to the bottom of the slide where the boys are now standing and says, “If you go down the slide headfirst again, you will be done with the slide. The decision is yours.” Then she stands there while the boys climb up again and come down – on their bottoms. 

What makes the difference? In the second scenario mom paired her words with actions. Words alone are like swats at an annoying mosquito. It is not until YOU act by getting up and moving that the maddening behavior stops. 

Steps to use to ensure your child listens to you: 

Prepare for success: 

  • Establish a predictable daily routine so your child knows when it is time to get dressed, eat, put away toys, turn off electronic, take a bath or get in the car. surprise
  • Think carefully about how many things you are asking your child to do. Focus on the important messages and let other things go. If you are constantly telling your child to do things, but not following through your child learns he does not need to listen – until you yell and come after him. 


  • Only ask your child to do something or stop something when you are fully present, focused, and ready to follow through. 
  • If you cannot follow through do not say anything. 
  • Do not repeat yourself.  Before you ask your child to stop or start a behavior go to him, get eye contact, if needed, place a hand on him, and be prepared to help him start or stop.  


  • Give a forewarning. 
    1. If you want your child to start a behavior, say to him, “It’s almost time.” 
    2. If you want your child to stop a behavior say, “If that happens again, I will...put it away, turn it off, leave the park, etc. 
  • Tell your child what needs to happen and include an action and a visual clue. When it is time to put on a coat, go to your child with coat in hand and say, “It’s time to put on your coat.” Or, “If you go down the slide head first again, you will be done with the slide.” 

Follow Through: 

  • Do what you said you would do. 
  • If your child is upset about putting on his coat, say to him, “If you are not going to put on your coat now, you can take a break until you are calm, or I can help you. 
  • Create a calming spot for him to go to when he needs time to calm.  Fill it with comfort items, like lovies, stuffed animals, books, Legos etc.  Then when he is calm put on the coat.  
Request Child’s response Prepare for success  Action Words Follow through
You tell your child it’s time to get dressed He runs away Establish a routine of dressing right after awakening in the bathroom or bedroom with the door closed. Do not leave this area, until your child is dressed. BEFORE you ask your child to get dressed, have clothes in hand and walk to him. Bend down get eye contact “It’s time to get dressed.” If your child is upset and refuses, take a few minutes to calm him, or have him go to his calming spot in this room. When he calms, help him dress.
You tell your child it is time to turn off the video  Your child refuses or complains. Before your child begins to use electronics establish how long she may do so.  Set a color timer so she can “see” how much times she has. Clarify that she can choose to turn it off and use it again the next day. If she does not, you will turn it off and it will not be available for the next 24 hours. She can decide what happens. Go to your child. Point to the timer. “It’s almost time to stop.” If your child refuses to stop, go to her and say, “You made a decision not to turn it off. I will turn it off and put it away for 24 hours.” Then do it. Even if she insists, she will do it say to her, “You made a decision. Next time you can make a different one.” There are no second chances. 
You ask your child to clean-up. Your child refuses. Establish a daily clean-up time, so your child knows that every day at this time, she will be asked to pick up toys. Limit the number of toys available at one time to prevent her from feeling overwhelmed. Go to your child. Point to the timer. “You have ten more minutes.  What else did you want to do before it is time to pick things up? Go do it.” Then “You have five more minutes, where do you want to save that?” And finally, “it’s time to stop.”  When your child refuses, set aside a pile of toys. Let your child know that when she is calm, she will need to put the toys away. She can still eat, sleep, use the bathroom, and go to school, but she may not play anything else until the toys are put away. If needed, you will help her.
You tell your child to stop throwing the ball at his brother. Your child does it again. Be present.  Go to your child. Bend down and get eye contact. Say to your child, “If I see you throw the ball at your brother again, you are done with the ball.” He throws it again. Do NOT repeat your request. Pick up the ball and put it away.

If you want your child to listen to you, it is essential that you pair your words with actions.

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