Child Therapist’s One Simple Tip to Get Kids to Listen

Do you feel your kids might be deaf because they ignore everything you say? Here is the simplest tip I offer parents in my therapy practice.

Getting our kids to listen can be an uphill battle. How often do you find yourself screaming at deaf children? As a child therapist, I get a glimpse into the mind of those parent-deaf children. Those children tell me things like-


  • I only listen when I hear my mom screaming.

    If I don’t do it – my mom will.

    My mom always threatens to take things away – but she never does.

    If I beg my my dad enough – he’ll give it back to me.

    If I throw a big enough fit my dad will get annoyed and give in.

    They say I can earn it back – so I don’t care if they take it away.

    If my dad says no, my mom will say yes.


We are teaching our children NOT to listen to us. Isn’t that scary? Our behavior is shaping our children’s reactions and habits without us even knowing it! When we set a pattern of not following through or of changing our no to yes due to exhaustion – our children note our reaction and file it away for next time.


The good news is – once we are aware of that pattern – it is easy to change.


So – how do you teach your children to be better behaved?


The first thing is to understand that children do not automatically follow our directions. Parents often think children will just blindly follow directions or will automatically control their emotions. This is usually not the case. They have to be taught responsibility, independence and self-regulation. Children are constantly learning where the boundaries are and what behaviors are acceptable. Children are testing limits and exerting their independence – and this is normal.


Children have to be taught follow-through. They have to be taught responsibility. They have to see that there is a cause and effect relationship between their choices and the consequences that follow. All of this takes time and patience.


So how do you do this?


First of all – try to take the emotion out of parenting. You aren’t going to be very successful if you get angry or start to take your child’s behavior personally.


When angry emotions are intertwined with your parenting – you are not a good teacher and are a less effective parent. I know this type of parenting is hard to do. If you can master unemotional, non-reactive parenting half the time – you are doing better than many of us!


Once you get the emotion out of your parenting. Develop an approach that you are willing to use consistently when your child doesn’t listen to you.


Consistency is key. There a zillion parenting books and blogs with parenting approaches. The key is to find a parenting approach that resonates with you and just be consistent! I don’t believe every approach is for every family or even for every child. Find what works for you and what works for your child.


The approach I teach parents most often is the Three Strikes You Are Out approach. It is very effective with most kids and is easy to do. The concept behind the three strikes – is to give children room to correct their behavior and to learn from their mistakes.

It is a very simple approach:


When your children are not listening – give them a warning.


“Clean up your toys.”
(child doesn’t clean up toys)

“I know cleaning up toys isn’t fun, but it is your mess – so you need to clean it up. If you don’t start cleaning up your toys you will get strike one.”


If your children don’t listen after your warning – give them strike one.


(child doesn’t clean up toys)

“Strike one.”


Encourage your children to make a better choice and redirect their behavior.


“I know you don’t want strike 2 because that would be so sad – so start cleaning up your toys. Grab all your cars and put them in the basket.”


I tell parents to limit their warnings to one warning before giving a strike to remain consistent and predictable for the child.


So what happens if the child gets three strikes?


This is up to you and your parenting philosophy. Whatever works for you and your family.


My favorite approach is having the children earn natural privileges each day by NOT striking out. This might be different for each family. At my house this includes some of the extras that we do at night (TV time, colored bubble bath, extra time to wind down in their room before going to bed).


If a child strikes out they may not earn TV time, they have a regular bath and may not earn extra wind down time in their room.


Other privileges might be things like earning a special trip to the park or an extra trip to the zoo. You might have a privilege for the end of your children’s day if they do not strike out. These privileges will change as children’s interests change and as they grow older. 


Children will often test any new behavioral approach you begin. I always tell parents to stick with any new approach for at least three weeks before deeming it ineffective. Children will test new limits and new boundaries. If you have a history of being inconsistent with consequences – it will take time for them to see that you mean what you say – Every. Single. Time.


Some children might strike out at the beginning of the day. To some degree – you have some control over this – as you are the one giving out the strikes. If you know your children are tired and cranky – you might not give out strikes as quickly as you would on other days.


You might want to redirect them instead with, “You are tired and cranky. Why don’t you spend some time in your room so you have some time to relax. If you keep up this behavior, you’ll be getting strikes, and I know you don’t want that.”


Everyone has off days – and your child might have a day where they strike out early. I suggest in these cases parents do a “second set” of strikes with a consequence associated with striking out for the second time.


Parenting can be a challenge! Children aren’t always going to listen – because they are children. Developmentally, children are meant to test boundaries and push limits. As parents it is our job to teach them that there are consequences for poor choices. Hopefully this approach will be another tool up your sleeve in this craziness we call


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Great books on teaching kids to listen:


4 responses to “Child Therapist’s One Simple Tip to Get Kids to Listen”

  1. Michele Spirn says:

    As always, great advice. Will practice on my grandchildren.

  2. […] often recommend a three strikes you’re out policy. That way kids are given a chance to correct their behavior and you can limit the amount of threats […]

  3. […] your kids struggle with listening, set up a consequence for not following the […]

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