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Why Don't Kids Listen? What To Do About it.

Updated on February 14, 2008

Why Don't They Listen?

Kids are just learning the rules of the life. Unless you teach them, they don't know the rule about having to listen. In other words, they aren't born knowing that they have to do what you ask them to do - they are born thinking that they're in charge. Ask any two year old and you'll find out rather quickly that toddlers believe YOU have to listen to THEM! ("I want water." "Ball" "Read me story now." These are just a few of the popular commands issued by this bossy group of little people.)

Kids, like older people, prefer to do what they want to do. If a child is reading a book, he wants to read it even though you asked him to close it and start his homework. So he may ignore your "request." If he's playing on the computer, he doesn't want to get off. The fact that you asked him to get ready for bed is irrelevant - just a nuisance to him really - he wants to do what he wants to do. Kids don't listen because it isn't convenient or pleasurable for them to do so. They'd rather do what they're doing or do something else entirely than cooperate with unpleasant parental demands. Parents are all about homework, eating dinner, cleaning up, brushing teeth, bedtime, and other necessary but un-fun activities. Kids would listen a whole lot better if parents asked them to come collect their cash and candy!

Although lack of desire to listen to a parent may cause an initial episode of "not listening" future episodes are maintained by parental behavior. Every kid will experiment to see if she can get away with not listening. Those who discover they can get away with it, will continue to not listen for many years to come.

How Parents Can Help Kids Listen

The secret to getting kids to listen is to make it even more unpleasant for them not to listen than to do what they are told.

Let's say that Mom has asked little Janice to put away her puzzle and come to the table for supper. Janice says, "soon" which means no time real soon. Mom let's this pass (thinking that maybe this time "soon" means "soon"). However, supper is cooling on the table and Janice is not showing up. So Mom asks her once again to put away the puzzle and come right now. This time Janice doesn't say anything, so Mom continues setting the table and serving the family, thinking that Janice is just about to show up. When Mom looks over a few minutes later, Janice is still busily playing with her puzzle! Now Mom shrieks: "How many times do I have to tell you to put away that puzzle and get to the table!" By ignoring Mom's request the few couple of times, Janice bought herself a good 8 minutes more of puzzle playing. Not a bad deal. O.K. Mom is a bit upset now, but that's a small price to pay for those extra precious moments of fun.

Now let's do it a different way. This time, when Janice answers "soon" Mom doesn't fall into the predictable trap. Instead, she says, "if you haven't put that puzzle away and gotten yourself to the table by the time I count to twenty, you won't be having any dessert tonight. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,.........."

If Janice doesn't hop to it, the price she will pay for not listening is her yummy dessert. This, for Janice, is a bad deal because she has a sweet tooth. (If she didn't have a sweet tooth, Mom would have to find a different consequence that would be very upsetting to Janice.) However, the first time Mom tries this strategy, Janice doesn't believe it will end badly, so she dawdles and plays with her puzzle for another 4 or 5 minutes before deciding to show up at the table. Mom let her play without comment. But once she arrives (late) at the table, Mom announces, "You're late. You aren't having dessert tonight." As long as Mom carries through with this declaration, Janice will learn to listen. If Mom caves, then Janice will remain a non-listener for a long time.

Unpleasant consequences for failing to listen solve the problem of "kids who don't listen." It's not really "kids who don't listen" so much as it is "parents who don't create unpleasant consequences for failing to listen." Negative consequences for not listening can be paired up with lots of praise for good listening. Reward for prompt listening can also be used. However, these forms of positive reinforcement are bonuses - not the whole story. Parents need to be willing to actually punish refusal to listen if they want that behavior to end. When parents use consistent consequences for failing to listen, kids will learn to listen! Some kids will learn the Listening Rule easily. Others will find it more challenging because of inborn characteristics. For instance, some kids are naturally strong-willed - they need to do things their way, in their own time. It will take longer to teach these kids that they must cooperate with parental requests. "Longer" means more episodes requiring more negative consequences; it does not mean "never." Strong-willed kids can become great listeners when they have consistent parenting. Similarly, children with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) are sometimes inherently "listening challenged." This may be because of distractibility, attention deficits or difficulty with transitions. Whatever the cause, these children can also become excellent listeners when their parents consistently discipline lack of cooperation.

It's actually easier to get kids to listen than you might have thought and once you've accomplished this little trick in your house, your home life will be much more pleasant for all of you forever.


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      Johne873 3 years ago

      I relish, cause I discovered just what I used to be taking a look for. You've ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye dccfacefkdbg

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      Copied from a yahoo page 4 years ago

      Oh my word I am so with you. I am a stay at home mom and I consider it my job and responsibility to raise my children. I have a really good stay at home mom friend whos has kids that are nightmares! They hit, bite, scratch, punch, destroy the house. All while she ignores them or makes idle threats. Ugh its terribly frustrating to visit. Let alone go anywhere with them. I took the two young ones to the store once. When we were checking out I set the oldest one out of the cart and told him to stay by me while I got the little one. The oldest ran shrieking through the store and started knocking everything he ran past off the shelves. It was complete chaos. I chased him with the littler one who started smacking me in the head. When I reported the incident to my friend she just passively said "that's why I don't take them anywhere". What on earth is that?! It sounds like "im to lazy to teach them manners so we just stay in the house." I actively teach my children manners. My mother always said "remember that you aren't just a child you are a future adult so conduct yourself like a good citizen". She always spoke to us and had clearly defined rules. She was very consistent and meant exactly what she said. I'm happy I had that example to pass down onto my kids. I am also glad people don't freak out when they see me and my kids coming. How embarrassing that would be.

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      A Teen 4 years ago

      Look being a child myself I know where this is coming from, but you have to understand that your child doesn't listen to you. Ask yourself if you were your child would you listen to yourself and do everything you are told, probably not and based on what I know (feel free to disagree) parents are bad listeners and at times control freaks. You listen to what they say but can you feel what they feel. Concequences are nessesary at times but you need to learn to understand your child at their level.

      For example say you want to play on the conputer and your parent tells you to stop, now before you think because they are my parents I'll stop, think how it would feel for a child to be told that how they don't understand the things you do. Set limits but be kind let them know your there for them and your doing what's best even if they don't like it yet also show your child that you care for him/her

      Next time you punish your child think of how they feel and truly listen to them.

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      Lauri Devore 4 years ago

      I have three adopted ADHD children, 7, 9, & 12. None of them listen & are very defiant. Help....

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      Denise Blados 4 years ago

      You should give that boy freedom.

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      Sike you bumm ass niggah 5 years ago

      Fake !

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      Mom of 2 crazy boys 5 years ago

      This article isn't giving any information that any good parent already knows. Of course I discipline my child with things that are unpleasant, otherwise what would be the point of disciplining at all? The problem with the article is that it's too cut and dry. What happens when you offer praise and love for good behavior, consequences for not listening, and even explain to them why those rules are there..because you love them and it is your job to teach them, but they still do not listen???? Mine consistently get toys taken away, dessert, outings, etc. Yet they still EVERYDAY will NOT listen. They don't like having things taken away obviously but despite the warning they still make the wrong choice every time and then cry and wonder why the item go taken away!

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      Dear Parents 5 years ago

      Listen to the article. Stop asking for help. JG is right about some parents not listening either.

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      burton 6 years ago

      i have 3 boys 8 9 n 10 that fight all the time n don't listen to at all what can i do plez help

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      Lewis 6 years ago

      I have a 9 year old son who is allways rude to me. I love him so much. He says things like don't come in my room or why don't you move some where. And is allways acting out by being loud. And we allways have to ask him to do something over and over. Thanks Lewis

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      JG 6 years ago

      Love this article and the parents who have read the article, then proceed to post questions like "what do i do?"....apparently some parents don't listen either. lol

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      andy 6 years ago

      I have a five year old boy that no matter what he thinks he's in charge. He throws himself on the ground, throws toys and kicks walls when you tell him not to do something. We've tried everything from spanking to removing privleges and no matter what consiquence he doesn't change one bit.

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      melissa 6 years ago

      i have 3 kids my 11 year old boy does not listen and has a bad temper and a smart mouth nothing seems to work with him no matter how much i punish him.

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      Jennifer 6 years ago

      I have a 5 yr old that no matter the consequence she still won't listen. She got in trouble this week in school and I took a birthday party from her, not two days later we are back to not listening. She doesn't care as long as she got to do that action that got her in trouble.

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      Mars 6 years ago

      Thanks for this article, I'm actually having problems with dealing my kid's not-listening behavior and has been reinforcing punishments every time she fails to listen, but sometimes I feel like I'm already hurting her feelings when I punish her. But I guess I have to stay firm so she'd listen to me.

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      Janice  6 years ago

      I have a grandson 10 and a grand daughter 9. They come to our home quite a bit but they do not listen. I will admit they wear us down but we are getting too tired and angry that they do not mind us. They try to get away with everything. Don't want to brush their teeth, dress when we ask everything is a big deal with them. They also argue about everything. They are not easy. What do you suggest.

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      HELP 7 years ago


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      Laura 7 years ago

      Listening is a challenge for kids. You discipline them to a certain age, and then let them make their own decisions. You must compromise. If you don't respect them, they wont respect you. Its a two way street.

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      Nandini Arun 7 years ago

      I have 2 year old kid. My son doesn't listen our words, we fed up of controlling him. If he goes outside, he goes out of control and if we ask to come, then he will cry, lay down on the floor and cry like anything. This

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      Ammar 7 years ago


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      Dipah H Gomes 7 years ago

      I 'm realy very much pleased to know about the article 'Why kids don't listen' and 'How parents can help their kids.' I thing this material should be practised by every parents and teachers of our country and the teacher-student, parents-children relationship will be grown.

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      yonka 7 years ago

      I am a mother of one 8 year old she is very bright had a caring heart but she is not listening at all in schoool the teacher has called 3 times i'ved had a meeting at school they have requested another one and school has just been in for 2 weeks what do i do.

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      Ashley 7 years ago

      I have an 8 year old that thinks she don't have to listen for nothing and she thinks shes a 21 year old and she doesn't have to do what i or anyone says and she wants to do things her way or not at all im so frustrated with it....HELP!!

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      steve 8 years ago

      i have five kids from the age 6 to 14

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      michelle 8 years ago

      hi im a mother of eight my oldest is soon to be 8 in dec my children do not help out takes them a real long time to get things going i'v asked them plenty of times to do thing but the need thing to do other then make a big mess is there anything you can suggested?

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      Margaret Hampton 10 years ago from Florida

      You demonstrate great insight and practical understanding of children's thoughts and attitudes, and of parental responsibility. Yes, parents MUST be consistent, firm, and carry through with the pre-established consequences. Otherwise, their word is meaningless, they won't be listened to, and they won't be trusted.

      A truly secure child is one who is given boundaries, clear expectations, clear consequences, and handled consistently. The Bible teaches that a father who loves his child disciplines and chastises him - that is, teaches, guides, and punishes him (not harms). It may seem paradoxical to the modern, natural mind, but that is the parent who becomes most loved, respected, trusted.