When (Little) Kids Don’t Listen

Several friends recently linked to this helpful article, Six Ways You’re (Unintentionally) Telling Kids NOT to Listen.

It’s a good article written by a mom of four boys. Much of it is common sense — but isn’t that what we often need as moms? Reminders to do what we know we want to do with our children?

I found myself drawn to respond in the comments to one mother who asked, “So… what would you do if you say to your child, “You need to join us for dinner now” or “Please pick up your shoes” or “Please come down from the playground now. It’s time to go home” or “You need to climb into your car seats so we can buckle up” and your child doesn’t do as asked/told? That is often the case with my kids.”

Here are some of the tools I’ve used with my five boys. Of course it depends on the child, the situation, and the personality. . . but in general these strategies work for me.

1. For a 2 or 3 year old. “You need to get in your carseat.” (No response from child.) “Do you need me to help you or can you do it yourself?” (For a 2 and 3 year old, this harnesses the strong “I’ll do it mySELF!” drive that they have! Usually my kids do it themselves at this point.) If my child still doesn’t get in the carseat, I say, “Here, let me help you,” pick them up, and help them. Really, my attitude at this point needs to be HELPING, not “punishing” them by forcing them. Keeping my attitude helpful rubs off on the child, and they seem to cooperate and accept my help.

2. Similar to the commenter Jon said, but a little different. . . I often link the action that needs to be done with the following action. I find that my younger kids don’t respond well to an “If you don’t do X, then we can’t do Y” sort of statement. What works better for us is a “When. . . then. . .” statement. It is subtly different, but for us, gains more cooperation. Using Jon’s example, I would phrase it, “When the toys are picked up, then we can read our story together.” To be honest, the “When… then…” works well with my teenagers, too. “When you are finished unloading and loading the dishwasher, then you can go play your guitar. . .”

3. Even smart kids, even kids who are very verbal, are STILL very physical when they are little. I find that when I help them physically start something, then they are able to “hear” what I said earlier and start complying. Like with the toys before book time, I might say, “When the toys are picked up, then we can read our story together.” And then, I’ll start picking up the toys, or putting the basket the blocks go in near my child, or other things that physically help him start the task.

4. Hug&Pray. . . when my kids (especially toddlers or preschoolers, but also older kids) are not complying or start having a meltdown, I like to pull them onto my lap and hug them. The hug helps calm me and calm them. It gives us a moment to reconnect and have that physical affection that helps put the big emotions into context. And I pray for wisdom. . . sometimes silently, sometimes out loud with them, so they see that I am not perfect but want to do the best thing. We both calm down usually, and then can address whatever situation brought up all the big feelings or disobedience.

Hope this helps with some practical ideas for when kids aren’t responding to your directions!


Author: TulipGirl

Alexandra K. Bush. Six kids. INFP. Reformed & covenantal. Liberty & justice for all. Speaker. Author. Current project: Helping parents connect with teens.

2 thoughts on “When (Little) Kids Don’t Listen”

  1. Wow, thank you! That is so helpful. I have a very verbal, smart three year old son. I think I was making more of a problem. This seems so simple and right.

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