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5 ways to get your child to listen.

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

A lot of us growing up may not have had parents who modeled how to work through difficult emotions for us. In an ideal world, we would have all had parents who mirrored our emotional states by saying things like "I can see that you are frustrated" or "I can see that you are sad" to teach us to how to cope with our emotions.

Well, what has this got to do with our children listening to us?

This process of simply labeling our emotional states would have taught us how to self-soothe, where we regulate our emotions in healthy ways that allow us to calm down. When we are calm, we process information better and respond to situations differently.

1. Has all your child's basic needs been met?

When your child isn't listening, it's important to ask:

  • Have they eaten enough, slept enough, or had enough downtime?

  • Do they feel connected to me? Have I been listening and paying attention to them?

  • Are they overstimulated?

It may seem obvious but children are simple creatures in this sense. A happy healthy child has all their immediate needs met. Most of the time their behaviour can be attributed to the fact that they are hungry, in need of a nap, or want your full undivided attention, if only for 10 to 15 mins of doing something they enjoy with you.

2. The power of positive phrasing.

Now this will take some practice but the truth is positive language is easier to listen to than negative language.

Research has shown that children find it less pleasant and more challenging to follow instructions when parents use negative language. This is because the child needs to listen to what you have said and deduce what he or she should be doing instead. While this may be obvious for an adult, for a little person who is loving the excitement of drawing all over the walls, it is more challenging.

3. Connect with your child first then direct them.

Consider being at work where your manager has come up to you and told you that you have to present at a meeting in 10 mins. Chances are, you would feel a little blindsided, having not known about the meeting or what you have to present.

Children respond similarly when we tell them what to do without any appreciation of their perspective. By connecting with your child before directing them to do something, you increase compliance.

For example, instead of, "Clean up your lego. It's time for dinner." Try, "Look at your Lego spaceship! You've really worked hard to put this together. It's time to put it away and set the table for dinner." (This is the equivalent of your manager coming up to you, acknowledging your recent ideas, sharing that they think management will be open to implementing it and if you could share these ideas with them.)

By appreciating what their doing, your child will feel respected and will be more inclined to cooperate with you. This approach will take a lot of practice, but the more you use this approach with your child, the more it will feel like second nature.

The second part of this approach is to direct not request. Unless you want a yes or no answer, never ask a question. This means you have to stop saying things


  • Can we clean this up? Or,

  • Can you help mummy set the table before dinner?

A common misconception about positive parenting is that it is passive, in fact, it is far from. You are still the parent and the one in charge! The only difference from other parenting styles is that you show respect for your child while being in charge.

4. Stop lecturing. Try using minimal language instead.

Less is more when it comes to effectively disciplining children. The more you repeat or nag at your child, they become less and less receptive to what we want them to do.

Instead of saying: "You left your shoes on the floor. I told you to put them away in the shoe rack."

Try: "Shoes."

Or, instead of: "What are you doing? I told you to start your homework fifteen minutes ago.

You're still in front of the TV!"

Try: "Homework."

Most of the time, children know when they've forgotten or ignored expectations. A reminder is much more effective and goes a longer way than them being berated.

5. Work with your child not against them.

If a child is looking overwhelmed, unfocused, or simply struggling, your support likely is just what they need. Whether it's working beside them as they do their homework or cleaning up with them as they do their chores, everything becomes easier with a bit of scaffolding.

Over time, as you build the connection with your child, you should see your child independently act on your directions. Remember to stay positive with your little one!

If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to get in touch today or want to know if Play Therapy could be right for your child take our quiz!

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