How To Teach Children Great Listening Skills Through Effective Communication

ethnic father and kid relaxing in bedroom

If your children don’t listen to you, you may not be communicating well. Teach your children great listening skills with this article!


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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Hi Mikki,

I have a tween (almost teen) and a five-year-old. My older son doesn’t listen to me at all. Now his little brother is doing the same. How do I get them to listen to me? I feel disrespected. Time out doesn’t work with either of them. I tried taking away TV time and computers. That didn’t work either.

– Jami T.


Hello Jami,

Thank you for your question. My thought is there may be an issue with how you communicate to your children. When kids aren’t listening, it usually means something is either not being said clearly, heard as intended or reinforced in a way that can be understood. Let me jump right in and start discussing ways to teach your children great listening skills–I’ll start with the younger child and I think you’ll soon get what I mean. 

Your communication needs to develop in pace with your son. This is the way you can guide growing independence skills which he will need to successfully navigate the world around him. As a general guideline, decisions should be encouraged and (crucially) be accepted from a very young age.

For example, you can ask a toddler “which T-shirt do you want to wear – the red one or the blue one?” and show him the options. This way, he does not get the chance to refuse because you are not asking if he would like to get dressed, you are letting him choose one of two options, either of which you’re happy with. He gets the satisfaction and practice of choosing and you have helped him learn with choice, decision making and colors! He will respond positively because you are giving him a choice while not giving him room to say ‘no.’

A teen – or pre-teen – may want to grow long hair, dye it, shave it, all kinds of style statements. Again, my advice here is to set some ground rules (such as – if you keep it clean and brushed, you can grow your hair as long as you like). Remember to give your child room to experiment–hair grows back. I suggest that it doesn’t become a big deal–your pre-teen wanting to try some ‘wild styles’. They could be choosing more hazardous ways to show budding independence! Pick your battles and you are both more likely to win.

The key aspects to remember as your child grows older are:

Communication needs to keep up with the child’s stage and capabilities while being an open discussion and not dictatorial. We tend to think that a child must do as we say, we’re the ‘boss’. This may be tempting to try to enforce, but it doesn’t work out very well.

You are likely to either end up with rebelliousness and resentment because the child feels ‘forced’ and not heard or valued, or you will get a child that appears to be compliant while they may well raise all sorts of trouble when you are not looking. No one likes to be told what to do, and kids need to develop their abilities to make choices with the skills they have learned and the modeling they have from parents, teachers and so on. If they have something to push back on (i.e. “must do’s”), you can bet the child will. 

Celebrate successful decisions and thoughtfully ask how you can support your growing child when things go awry. Maybe ask him what he’d do differently if he got to do it again. Ask questions to promote thought and exploration. I cannot tell you strongly enough how important it is for your son to feel that he has your trust in his abilities. “I know you’ve got this, so let me know if you want my input at all.” Avoid “I told you so” and “what were you thinking?” responses. This damages self-esteem and does not contribute to learning.

I’m sure you want communication channels to stay open between you and your growing kids – and you still have time to make this happen. A big part of teaching children great listening skills and fostering great parent-child relationships, is the parent knowing when to step back, giving up control.

Your teen needs to learn how it feels to be trusted and independent, valued for who he is and safe to tell you what’s going on in his life without fear of judgment or repercussions. When parents try to control their kids, they end up with no control. Communication breaks down and relationships sour.

I’m so glad you asked this question Jami, because I think many parents will recognize your situation.  Let me know how it goes and please come back with any further questions or comments! – Mikki


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