How to Get Your Child to Listen

a woman teaching a boy about the art of painting

Are you struggling to get your child to listen? Read how our certified behavioral specialist–Mikki Stone–helps one couple navigate this common issue.


by Mikki Stone | Certified Behavioral Specialist and creator of the Ask Mikki column–a Q&A column dedicated to helping parents navigate behavioral issues with their children. You can follow her on Instagram @mikkigaffentstone.

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Question:

My child doesn’t listen! I know he can hear me, but he just ignores me. Do you think he has ADHD? What do I do? I have tried punishment and it didn’t work. I take his tablet away and he just gets mad and still doesn’t listen. I’m really frustrated and end up arguing with my husband about what to do.

[names changed to protect privacy]

Answer:

Hi Alyssa, thank you for being one of the first to ask a question here! I want to acknowledge you for being brave. You asked something that all of us struggle with at some time, because ALL kids do this. 

Kids can be incredibly frustrating. Some kids use “I can’t hear you” as a strategy to get what they want; some simply tune their parents out because they are really into what they are doing. Most often it’s the first case scenario. 

Hint: getting what they want might not be what you think it is! 

Johnny may be looking for attention, and the sure-fire way to get that is to ignore you. 

Attention can be “happy attention” like when other kids laugh at something funny Johnny did, and it can be “unhappy attention” like an adult losing it because Johnny isn’t responding when he is told it’s time to go. 

Funnily enough, we now know that any attention will do. If he gets a big reaction every time he ignores you, he’s going to keep doing it. It worked for him! 

It didn’t work for you, I know – and I wish I had known about this myself when my kids were younger! It’s game-changing information.

This probably sounds like a no-win situation. 

I’m here to say, “not so”. It’s a situation BOTH of you can win, but it takes a lot of self-control and preparation on your part. 

What to do: 

Alyssa, start thinking of some different ways to ask for what you want from Johnny. 

I’ll give some examples to get you started. 

Instead of calling across the room to him, try this:  walk over, tap his shoulder, and say “Johnny, we are leaving in five minutes. Do you want to get your jacket now, or on the way out the door?” 

With that simple statement, 

  • You’ve taken away the chance for him to pretend he didn’t hear you. 
  • You asked him for a response to a question that is directly related (the jacket) which means he can’t pretend he didn’t understand, and 
  • you gave him a choice that both of you can deal with the answer to. As you wait for his answer, the pressure is on for him to say something.

If or when he argues, summon your self-control and say in a calm voice, “No, isn’t an option. You can choose to get your jacket in five minutes, or we can leave now. Which is it?”.

Big hint: Don’t argue with Johnny. Or any child, ever, if you can help it. The child wins as soon as you start arguing! He has all day and nothing better to do than to test your boundaries and see what happens when he engages in button pushing behavior. It’s his job to learn what is safe, and what isn’t. What works, and what doesn’t. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.  

  • Be a step ahead whenever possible.
  • Give him closed choices (“this or that” “Now or later” – give timeframe).
  • Stay calm.
  • Stay firm, no negotiations. 
  • Repeat your statement until he complies, or five minutes is up and you have him pick his jacket up on the way out.

I hope this helps!

I hope the tips I gave, helps you on your parenting journey. If you or other parents have more parenting questions, be sure to reach out via email [email protected].

Thanks for asking your question.

Best, Mikki


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