Leah Koenig, MA, LMHC
Parent Coach ~ Family Therapist

Bellevue Family Counseling, LLC
1601 116th Ave NE, Ste. 102
Bellevue, WA  98004
425-417-5902
 Getting your kids to listen the first time

Why Can't Kids Just listen?

by Leah Koenig MA, LMHC
PCI Certified Parent Coach® & Family Therapist


Johnny sweetie, would you mind picking up your coat when you have a moment?”  I watched as Johnny put down his book, smiled, walked over to the coat strewn on the floor and hung it in the closet.  Then he came over and gave me a big hug. 

Does that happen in your house?  Or is it more like this: “I’ve asked you four times; pick your coat off the floor!  I mean it!”  Johnny slumped his shoulders as he got up from TV, stomped his feet over to the coat, swiped it off the floor and threw it into the closet, slamming the door in protest. 

Does it seem like you have to almost explode and yell to get your kids to listen?

Have you ever fantasized how easier life would be if our children listened to our requests and then did everything we told them to do the very first time we asked? 

Can you imagine no wasted time, no power struggles and no tantrums from them or us? 

When we speak, we want them to do more than listen; we want them to act on our requests immediately and for those of us who really day dream, we imagine them doing all this with a smile on their face. We have an expectation of immediate obedience and get upset when they do not do what we want, when we want.  Think about this: do you like it when someone tells you what to do? 

The sad reality is that what we want and what our children want are often in opposition, so conflict is inevitable, especially when we frame our request as a demand.  The reality is that children have their own needs, wants and personalities and these are motivations for them to follow their own desires rather than ours.  As parents we sometimes celebrate their individuality and their passions, but that is hard to do when we are trying to get out the door and to work on time. 

Parents who struggle with getting their children to listen the first time is one of the more common issues I see as a parent coach.  If this is you, here are no less than six suggestions for you to experiment with in managing these moments and avoiding the typical power struggle that follows.  They work best in combination with each other, however any one will help.  Maybe try one and add another when you are ready.  Think of good listening as a skill that needs to be taught.  This means it will be achieved over time, with repetition and most of all don’t forget to applaud effort.

Here are six different suggestions to try:

1. Pick your time
Children are not great multi taskers so don’t expect them to listen well while they are watching TV.  Wait for a good moment or tell your child that you have something important to say and you need his or her attention.  This intrigues them and is also modeling an approach you may like them to use with you; respect.

2. Say “eyes on me please”
While you are speaking encourage eye contact between yourself and your child.  How do you know when someone is listening to us?”  Usually we feel this way when there is eye contact.

3. Make it a request
No one likes to be told what to do.  When our own parents, boss or partner uses guilt or is a drill sergeant to us, we might meet that need but only out of resentment and anger.  If you make your needs known through a request, it gives children the chance to meet our needs with love and joy.  

4. Set the Timer
Imagine you have about ten seconds to speak.  You can increase this slightly over time but for this initial re-training keep it very short.  Remember a great Love and Logic® truth: “The more words we use, the less effective we become.”

5. Prioritize
Figure out what is most important to convey and say it first.  Give a verbal cue when you have more than one thing to say.  “I have three things to say, first (hold up one finger), second (hold up another finger) third (hold up another finger).  For younger children you may want to give them only one or two actions at a time and wait until they are finished before telling them the next item.  For slightly older children ask them to repeat the three steps to help you feel understood.

6. Give praise
Usually we are so happy that a child follows our directions we forget to be thankful.  Praise the child’s action and link it back to your request.  “Wow, you picked up that coat so quickly, I really appreciate you listening”.  This is positive feedback that helps them connect following through with love and connection.  Kids who get this feel good about the relationship and are much easier to motivate as teenagers because there is a relationship.

Remember, these are really six steps to help train your kids to listen.  Start with one and build your way to a happy easier life with your children.