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How to Teach Kids to Listen

Updated on March 21, 2007

Because listening to others is the foundation for every relationship your child will create, it's worth the time it takes to teach. Not to mention, parenting a child who listens is WAY easier than parenting a child who ignores you.

Quick Tips To Get Kids to Listen

  • Be clear and pleasant
  • Avoid nagging
  • Use humor
  • Phrase things in a new way
  • Be concise - can you say short attention span?
  • Never baby talk to a small child
  • Avoid negatives. Instead of Don't Run, say Walk Only.
  • Don't talk down - expect maturity and you're more likely to get it
  • Don't back down or kids won't know when you're serious
  • Check for understanding by asking the child to repeat what you said
  • Make a game out of story time - lock lips and put the key in your pocket

Be a Good Listener

The trick to getting kids to listen? Listen to them first. Whether you like it or not, you show them all the time with every action how to behave. Find moments to give your child undivided attention. Take off the Bluetooth, sit down, and look at her for a minute. It doesn't need to be an hour. Just pay attention when she's excited to tell you something and she'll learn to return the favor. Ask about things they're interested in. Listening to the plot of the latest Goosebumps mystery today may pay off tomorrow.

You can also practice listening at the dinner table. It's one more reason to eat together. Let each person ask a question and everyone has to answer. Or go around the table telling a silly story, everyone adding on a couple sentences while the others listen quietly. Pass a spoon to designate who is allowed to speak.

Speak Carefully

Speak to children respectfully, making eye contact and using a pleasant tone of voice. Of course you shouldn't yell, but you already knew that. Nevertheless, we all do it. Get over the guilt and do better next time.

We get confused because when our babies are two, we need to scream sometimes to startle them out of the street. No one ever talked a kid out of sticking a fork in an electrical socket. Parents can get stuck in a tone that kept a toddler in line, but it won't work for an older child. Disrespect them and they'll tune you out.

What about the times we just want kids to act? Set the table - Eat your broccoli - Go to bed! It helps to occasionally add the Why:

  • Being part of a family or community means doing your fair share.
  • Eating the right foods keeps your mind and body strong.
  • Getting enough rest gives you energy to play with your friends.

You don't need to explain everything every time, but remind them once in while that you have reasons behind your requests.

The older your child gets, the more you need her to listen. Build trust over time so that she'll listen when it's really important. The sex and drug talks are not quick and they're not one-timers. You'll need to capture your child's ear over and over to get crucial messages across.

It takes endless creativity to be a parent. A good listener is patient, empathetic, and respectful. That's what you need to model in order to teach your kids to listen to you. Of course there's nothing wrong with going into raging lunatic mode occasionally. Your kids won't be listening anyway!


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