3 Phrases to Use When Your Child Isn’t Listening

There’s nothing more frustrating than telling your child one thing and watching them, moments later, do the exact opposite. When your little one isn’t listening it can feel like nothing you do will get them back on track. It can also make you question whether you’re doing the right things as a parent or if you’re somehow messing up. In reality, not listening (from time to time, or more often) is developmentally normal for kids from infancy all the way through their teenage years. Instead of getting angry, or questioning your parenting skills the next time your child isn’t listening, consider trying out one of the phrases below – you might be surprised how much it can help!

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“It seems like you’re really interested in your project …” How many times have you asked your child to help with something or to head out the door only to be ignored as they keep playing the game they’re playing or working on the art project their working on? Instead of losing your cool and demanding that they follow your instructions take a deep breath and acknowledge how invested they are in their activity. After acknowledging their hard work and letting them know the next instruction, you can follow up by telling them when they’ll be able to finish or what you’ll do to keep it safe in the meantime. For example, “Jazmine, it looks like you’re really working hard on that painting. We’ve got to go to the car now so we can go to the doctor but I’m going to put your work on the counter to dry. When we get home we can get the paints right back out and keep working!”

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“I’m going to set a timer.” Think how frustrating it would be to get right to the best part of your show on Netflix only to have someone turn off the TV and tell you that you have to leave RIGHT NOW. Likely, that’s how your child feels when they have to leave the playground or put down the toy they’re playing with abruptly. Instead of surprising your child with instructions, let them plan ahead and prepare themselves to transition by giving a 5-minute warning or letting your child know you’re setting a timer.

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“I’m going to come help you.” When you’ve been giving your child instructions on repeat and they’re just not doing what you’ve asked, it can be really tempting to raise your voice or threaten them with punishment. Instead, offer to help them. Often, just the offer of help will inspire your child towards action- other times your kind and calm support as they complete a task will build your bond as you get things done! You can offer to help using phrases like, “Jackson, I’ve asked you to pick up your blocks three times but you haven’t done so. I’m going to come help you put your blocks in the basket now.”


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3 Phrases to Use When Your Child Isn’t Listening

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com ... More

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