How to make kids listen: this is the number one struggle I hear from parents every day. You want your kids to obey your word, but most times it turns into a never-ending power struggle.
You ask your child to do something really simple–like pick up the toys–and not only do they not follow your advice, they dig in their heals, resisting your simple instructions even more.
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Up until now, you’ve tried all the parenting techniques you knew as a child, but the traditional methods don’t seem to be working . You’re looking for something better. Something that will help your parenting days feel easier and less stressful.
I remember when I first became a mom and I read countless articles about teaching kids obedience an early age. I heard tips like…
- Use the word “No” and to use it often.
- Send kids to their rooms.
- Hold firm your boundary at all costs.
Those techniques are like the bandaid of parenting. They cover up the boo-boo but they don’t actually heal the wound. After a while, you’ve got a lot of open parenting wounds covered up by bandaids without any real solutions.
This is exhausting, right?
How to make kids listen.
Teaching blind obedience to the word “no” or attempting to “control your kids” leaves you feeling defeated and discouraged as a parent. Because those things don’t really work.
In order to learn how to make kids listen, you need to give your child the skills they need to make smart choices, even when you are not around.
I’m going to show you how to…
- Tap into your child’s motivation so he wants to listen.
- Build your child’s listening skills into a sturdy brick house.
- Enjoy a more peaceful, happier home using proven listening strategies.
I’ve compiled the ultimate list of resources to help you answer the golden question: how to make kids listen. Let’s simplify and start with 4 Basic Tips!
Tip 1: Let’s take a peak inside your child’s brain.
I could spend hours rambling about your child’s brain all the fancy science behind it. We could talk synapses, myelination, frontal cortex, neuron, cortical and subcortical structures, but truthfully, who has time for that?
Let’s keep it simple. You need a basic understanding of how your child processes information. This is the key unlocking better listening, cooperation, fewer power struggles and more peaceful days. Knowing how your child’s brain works empowers you to shift your approach to one that is more effective. Let’s work smarter, not harder, right?
Important structure #1: Prefrontal cortex
This is your child’s thinking brain and it’s located in the front of the brain, right behind the forehead. It handles logic, empathy, compassion, creativity, self-regulation, self-awareness, predicting, planning, problem solving and attention. While an adult’s prefrontal cortex is fully mature and operates at an extremely high level, it is the most immature part of your child’s brain.
Important structure #2: Limbic system
This is your child’s emotional brain. It processes memory, stress responses, nurturing, caring, separation anxiety, fear, rage, social bonding and hormone control. During the early years, the limbic system is the front seat driver of the brain, and it doesn’t care what anyone in the backseat has to say about it.
Important structure #3: Synapses
Synapses are the connections inside your child’s brain and this is how the brain communicates. Think of them as a huge pile of tangled string all in one ball. Each string represents a communication pathway in your child’s brain.
When you are struggling with listening, communication or power struggles, remember that repeated use strengthens a synapse. This is why consistent approaches to listening and behavior are so important. The groundwork you lay during the early years sets the foundation for the years to come.
Tip 2: Tap into the emotion.
You already know from Step 1 that the emotional brain is the motivation of all things in the world of your child. If you truly want to make kids listen, you must tap into the emotional brain to rev up their motivation. This will make life so much easier for you as a parent.
From an emotional standpoint kids want…
- Reassurance that their feels are normal and valid.
- An opportunity to express their feelings without judgement or shame.
Before you can improve your child’s listening skills, you must help them process emotions and feelings. This is easier than it sounds and it can take as little as a few minutes!
How to tap into your child’s emotion…
- Reflect your child’s feelings. This may sound something like “You are angry” or “You don’t want to eat dinner” or “You hate bedtime and you wish you could stay up later” or “You’re upset because the kids at school called you names.”
- Convey empathy. This may sounds something like “Who wouldn’t be upset about something like that!” or “It’s hard for you” or “It’s frustrating when you try so hard and it doesn’t turn out the way you want it.”
Taping into the emotion builds the connection with your child. There is nothing more comforting to a child than a parent who listens and understands. This is a HUGE and important step!
When kids feel that connection to you, they are more likely to respect and follow your word. You build the trust, love and connection, and the results will start to follow.
Tip 3: Focus on what the child can do.
After building the connection, listening starts with well-placed guidance. All kids want to make good life choices. Really, they do! But so often, the techniques we are using put them on the defensive, and they will instantly start to dig their heels deeper and deeper into the mud.
This is my number one tip to reduce power struggles.
A little bit of re-framing will make a world of difference when learning how to make kids listen. Instead of focusing on what your child can’t or shouldn’t do, tell him what he can do that fits within your boundaries.
Instead of…”Don’t push your sister.” Try…”You can be more gentle. Show me how you’re gentle.”
Instead of…”You didn’t clean anything up in your room like I told you.” Try…”The toys are on the floor. The room needs cleaning. I can help you get started with the cleaning. I’ll be if we race, we can get it all done in only a few minutes!”
Instead of…”You’re going to bed right now. Because I said so.” Try…”You don’t want to go to bed. You wish you could stay up late. You don’t want to miss anything. You can take a quiet toy with you to bed. Which one would you like to take?”
These are just a few examples, but the possibilities are endless. You don’t need to change your boundaries, simple re-frame the way you present the boundary. There is always something (even if it’s a small something) that the child can do to help them feel a sense of control in any situation.
- How to Say “No” (Without Actually Saying “No”)
- How to Get Your Toddler To Listen: 3 Phrases to Avoid
- 10 Must-Try Strategies When Your Toddler Doesn’t Listen
Tip 4: Reinforce things your child did well.
Raising kids who listen well ultimately starts with positive reinforcement of the good choices kids make. There is always something that your child did well in a situation.
When you tell a child what they did wrong, they have no information on how to solve the problem or improve the situation.
All they hear and think is…
I can’t do anything right.
Nothing I do matters anyway.
I’ll show her.
By naming what your child does well, you will bring out your child’s individual greatness. All those positive behaviors will start to shine through. When kids receive information about something they did well, they will become more persistent and consistent with better behavior.
But first, an important rule about praise!
Choose praise that relates only to the child’s effort and accomplishments, not with their character or personality. When a child finishes her homework, it is natural to positively reinforce her effort. But it is totally unrelated to tell her how “smart” and “amazing” it was for her to finish.
Kids who are filled with empty praise are dependent on your words rather than their own intrinsic motivation and self-esteem.
Here are a few examples…
Instead of…”Good job for finishing your homework.” Try…”You stayed focused for 30 minutes and finished your work without a reminder.”
Instead of…”Great job for climbing to the top of the playground.” Try…”You carefully climbed up each part of the rock wall to make it to the top.”
Instead of…”Awesome job finishing all your dinner.” Try…”You are a healthy eater. You even sat patiently through the whole meal while everyone else finished.”
- How to Get Children to Listen Using Only 9 Key Phrases
- How to Develop Great Listening Skills Without Using Words
- 5 Mistakes Parents Make When Teaching Kids to Listen
- 3 Things Every Parent of a Strong-Willed Toddler Should Know
More listening resources and tips for parents.
Those 4 tips were a lot of information! And right now, you might be feeling slightly overwhelmed.
I created a list of parenting posts below for you to continue referencing in your listening journey! Bookmark this page today and come back in the next days and weeks to build on what you are currently learning. This will help you build your listening tool belt.
3 Ways to Teach Listening in Unsafe Situations (high places, parking lots, etc)
Listening activities to try with kids.
Once a week, it is fun to try a listening game or activity to help your child build his or her listening skills! Kids are ten times more likely to improve on something if you can make it fun for them!
Recommended Reading for Teaching Listening
There are countless parenting books out there that you can read. Out of all the books I’ve read, these are my top 3 listening books to help parents learn how to make kids listen.
Teaching kids to listen takes practice.
Whether your kids are throwing a tantrum in isle 6 of Target, refusing to stay close in the parking lot, or standing naked on the counter to get a drink of water, your kids are hard-wired for empathy, listening and obedience. These listening resources can help nurture and guide your child to build those skills. On days when everything feels like a power struggle or a temper tantrum, try one of these listening phrases and see how it works. Teaching kids to listen may not be so bad after all.