What to Do When Your Kid Never Listens

Image via Katie Hurley

“She's the perfect angel at school, but she never listens at home.” This is a common complaint among parents these days. In fact, I field a lot of phone calls from frustrated parents. How can it be that kids can follow instructions at school, on the playing field, and just about everywhere else, but completely turn their ears off at home?

It's no big secret that kids are under increased pressure these days. Even in preschool, kids are learning academic skills earlier than ever before. If you think about the daily life of a young child, they spend a lot of time following directions and attempting to meet the expectations of the adults in their lives.

While it probably doesn't seem like much of a prize that your child saves her most challenging behavior for you, it's actually a good sign that your child does know how to listen.

So what do you do when it feels like your child never listens? You gather every ounce of patience you have, remain positive, and work on listening skills at home. It's important to remember that although it's frustrating when kids don't listen, kids tend to shut down when parents are angry. Yelling about it will actually lead to less listening. You have to remain positive if you want your kids to retain lessons on listening.

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Listen as much as you talk.

The best way to teach listening skills is to model them. If you want your kids to listen to you, you have to listen to them. Try these steps to modeling effective listening skills:

  • Stop what you're doing
  • Get down to eye level
  • Make eye contact
  • Ask questions to convey understanding
  • Repeat back what your child says
  • Show empathy

Kids are constantly being told what to do and when to do it. Sometimes they need someone to listen to them, instead.

{ MORE: 8 Steps to Loving Your Child Through Purposeful Discipline }

kind words
Image via Katie Hurley

Take a lesson from the teacher.

(Cue sing-song voice) “Class?” “Yes?” “Class, class!” “Yes, yes!” This is one of the many creative and positive ways my son's first-grade teacher gets the whole class to stop what they're doing and listen. And it works. Every. Single. Time.

Whether you sing it, clap it, or rhyme it, find a way to grab your child's attention that is both positive and fun.

Note: You don't like to be interrupted when you're working, right? Kids don't like to be interrupted when they're in the middle of playing! Some kids are genuinely wiped out after school or preschool and need that coveted solitary play time.

When I see that my son is lost in play, but I need to tell him something important, I get low and whisper. “When you're done with that part, please let me know so I can fill you in on something.” He's 7, so that works for him. For younger kids, you might try this: “I know you're having fun right now and you don't want to stop. I'll come back in two minutes.” Set a timer and return when it goes off.

Image via Katie Hurley

Play to teach.

Playing games can be a great way to teach listening skills! Simon Says; Red Light, Green Light; and Mother May I? are all fun playground games that help kids learn to listen.

You can also try the continuous story at the dinner table (even with little ones!). One person says one line to start a story, and then each person around the table takes turns adding to it. Kids have to pay attention to what the person before them says to make the lines connect.

We are huge fans of the indoor obstacle course around here. I make up multi-step obstacle courses and send the kids running, jumping, and singing around the house on a quest to follow the instructions!

{ MORE: If You Want Your Kids to Succeed, Tell Their Teachers Your Family Secrets }

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What to Do When Your Kid Never Listens

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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