how to get kids to listen

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how to get kids to listen

It was one of those mornings when I was so sleepy after a night when I stood up late to work. My only plan was to get us out of the door quickly and take my son to the park. There he could play with his friends and I could have some quiet time to recharge my energy.

So I asked my son to clean up his toys before going out. I asked once. Then twice. And third.

But it was like I was talking by myself. So by the time I said it for the fourth time I was already upset.

“You need to clean up your toys right now because we need to go to the park. Okay?”

Still no reaction.

“Did you hear what I just said?”, I asked, this time in a very firm tone.

He stopped playing with his toy train and looked at me.

“No, I didn’t!”, he answered, with a genuinely surprised look on his face.

I couldn’t believe this! And I also couldn’t understand why he would delay going to the park, as this is a thing that he loves! I was so close to losing my patience.

Luckily, I remembered something that I once read about the way our brains are “filtering” requests when someone is nagging us. And it made so much sense!

My son was not reacting to what I was saying. And instead of finding a better way to communicate with him, I was just repeating the same phrases over and over again. So I decided to try another approach.

I got closer to him and got down to his level.

“May I tell you something important?”

“Yes”, he answered and stopped playing.

“Great! Do you want to go to the park this morning?”

“Yes”, he said, with a lot more joyful tone.

“I want this too. But before we go, I need you to clean up the toys on the floor. Would you like to do this now or would you like to play 5 more minutes and do it afterward?”

“I will do it now!” – and he was already standing, getting ready to clean up.

You can imagine how amazed I was about how well this conversation went! Twenty minutes later we were already outside, on the way to the park.

That conversation was one of the many moments when I realized how powerful an effective communication can be! We can get kids to listen a lot easier if we know how to talk in a way that allows us to connect with them.

Communicating with kids doesn’t have to be frustrating. It doesn’t have to make us feel upset or angry. And it doesn’t have to be the reason for unnecessary power struggles.

10 tips for communicating better with young kids

Here are some tips that I’ve learned about communicating with tips and that can make a difference in getting kids to listen to our requests. They are easy to implement and can have great results!

They will not only help us communicate better with our kids, but will also teach our kids how to communicate in an effective and respectful way.

1. Grab the child’s attention before making a request

When children are focused on something else, there are big chances that they will ignore our requests. To make sure that the child is listening to you, it’s helpful to use a simple question like:

“May I tell you something important?”

“I would like you to stop what you are doing for a minute because I have something to tell you.”

how to get kids to listen

2. Use just a few words to communicate your request

Young kids have short attention spans. They get easily distracted so formulating your request in a short and clear way is very important.

You can find many helpful tips for communicating with kids in an effective way in this book: “How to get kids to listen in a calm and positive way“. It’s one of the best book for parents who want to improve the communication with their kids!

3. Use “I” sentences instead of “you” sentences.

This is one of the mistakes that I’ve made that morning. The phrase “You need to clean up your toys” was not effective simply because it wasn’t true.

My son didn’t have that need. I had it.

So the correct (and more effective) phrase is “I need you to clean your toys.” This lets the child know that what we ask is important for us. And it makes our request more powerful.

4. Don’t ask questions unless you are ready to accept the answer

Formulating requests as questions can be tricky.

If you ask a child “Could you please clean up your toys / wash your hands / etc?” there are chances that the answer will be “no”. And if you are not prepared to accept this answer, the conversation can easily become frustrating.

Instead, using sentences is much more effective. (“I need you to wash your hands.”, “Now it’s time to wash your hands.”)

5. To make things easier, you can offer the child 2 choices

Kids need to have some level of control over their lives. So too many requests can make them feel powerless and frustrated. Offering choices is a great way to offer kids more control.

Here are some examples:

“Do you want to put on your red pajamas or your blue pajamas?”

“Do you want to do brush your teeth now or after 5 more minutes of play?”

“Would you like to take a bath with your boat toys or to take a bubble bath tonight?”

how to get kids to listen

6. Offer time

Sometimes kids need some time to do what we ask them to. Especially if this means stopping an activity that they like.

Empathy is very important when communicating with kids. Phrases like the ones below are very helpful for making things easier for kids.

“I know that it’s hard to stop playing and go to bed. I’m sure that you would like to play a lot more but now you can’t do this. Instead, you can play 10 more minutes tonight before going to bed.”

“I know that leaving the park is hard when you have so much fun! But I need to get home to be able to prepare lunch on time. You can have 10 more minutes with your friends and then we will go home.”

7. Provide explanations

If the child has a difficult time listening to your request, providing explanation can help a lot!

“We need to leave the park now because otherwise I won’t have enough time to prepare lunch. And you know that you don’t feel well when you are hungry! I promise that we will go back tomorrow to see your friends again.”

“You cannot go to the park on your roller skates because it rains and the road is very slippery. I’m afraid that you’ll get hurt. Instead, you can ride the bike if you want.”

8. Ask for help

This is a very helpful way to encourage cooperation. Kids are glad to know that they can help us. It makes them feel important and a lot more willing to listen to our requests.

“I need to get to the doctor’s appointment on time. This is very important to me! Could you please help me with this and get dressed really quickly?”

“I have a very big shopping list today and I don’t want us to spend a lot of time in the grocery store. Could you please help me buy everything on the list? You could help me put everything in the cart.”

9. Create routines for repetitive tasks

If your daily schedule includes a series of repetitive tasks (and it probably does), creating a routine is a lot better than making many requests in a short time.

For example, there are some things that kids need to do every evening before bedtime (bath, brushing teeth, putting on their pajamas, and so on). Instead of making all these requests every evening, you can create a routine and only ask your child to follow it. This reduces the number of requests and makes things easier for everyone.

The same thing applies to the morning routine and any other repetitive tasks throughout the day.

You can find more tips for creating successful routines for your kids here:

how to get kids to listen

10. Be consistent

This last tip on the list is very important! Consistency helps kids understand that our requests are important. It also prevents tantrums and protests. When kids know that we will follow up with our requests they will be more willing to listen to us from the start.

If kids know that protests and tantrums will make our requests disappear, things will get worse!

Protests and meltdowns can happen when kids are not ready to follow our requests. And they are kids’ way to learn how to deal with their intense feelings. But if we deal with them in a gentle way, the kids will get better at dealing with these moments. And in time, listening to our requests will become a lot easier for them!


Finding an effective way to communicate with my son wasn’t easy at first! And I still learn how to get better at this as he grows up!

But these tips really made a difference for us and I hope that they will help you too!

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how to get kids to listen

Do you want to get your kids to listen in a calm and positive way, without yelling or nagging? These 10 tips will help you do that! You'll become a calmer parent and you'll be able to build a stronger relationship with your children! --- How to get kids to listen | Get kids to listen without yelling | Parenting tips for toddlers and preschoolers | Get kids to listen the first time #ParentingTips #PositiveParenting #GentleParenting #PositiveDiscipline
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photo credit: Evgeny Atamanenko / shutterstock.com

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One Comment

  1. My 5 year old grandson repeatedly ignores his dad. This is generally after he has come home from work. My son will tell him to Do something in a kind voice, Lukus, I need you to go blow your nose. Lukus not only ignores him, but refuses to when my son walks him to the bathroom and repeats the request. The child continually refuses and the dad becomes irritated. Any suggestions? This happens after just about any request, eat your dinner, put your toys away, pick up your coat.
    Thank you.