Are you tired of repeating yourself to your kids? Believe it or not, here’s how to get kids to listen AND actually do what you ask!
I looked down at the coat that was still lying on the floor. My voice bellowed out to the offending child, “Didn’t I ask you to pick this coat up?”
Something like “How many times do I have to tell you?” or “Why can’t you ever listen to me?” was welling up in my soul and I had to work hard to push it down. I found myself standing there on the offending coat in the middle of the floor, wondering what I was doing wrong. How do I get kids to listen?!
I thought about his sisters and how much better they were at actually doing what I asked. I wanted to blame the whole thing on his age, but I knew the truth was that I hadn’t followed my own rules.
You see, the whole exchange went a little something like this. He was in another room and I shouted into the doorway of that room, “Will you please pick your coat up?” I think he looked up at me, but I can’t even remember for sure. Then I walked out. That was, oh, probably 4 hours ago.
When I think back on the whole thing it’s no wonder the coat is still lying there. I know better than to parent like that.
How about you? Did you catch the many mistakes that I made in the process? Are you struggling to know how to get kids to listen? This whole parenting thing isn’t easy. We try hard and do what seems right, but sometimes we are working against ourselves like I was above. Is there something I could have done differently to increase my chances of getting that coat picked up?
Absolutely! And I want to share it with you, but first a disclaimer. To prevent you from getting the wrong idea, let me first say that there really is no magic in this and kids can never be completely controlled or predicted. (Besides- do we even want that?)
However, using these steps will work 99% of the time and you will indeed find yourself with fewer coats lying in the middle of the living room floor.
How to Get Kids to Listen
1. Call the child to you
Never EVER bark out an order from across the room. (I’m preaching to myself.) This whole idea sets us up for failure. Before long you will find the kids saying “Oh, I didn’t hear you” or “Were you talking to me?”
We don’t want to leave any room for confusion. If you call the child over to you, you guarantee that they know what you have asked. “Son, come here please.” No question, I’m talking to him.
2. Touch them
This step is not mandatory, but it really helps. Try touching the child’s shoulder or taking their hands in yours. This will often soften their hearts if they are not so much in the mood to obey. (Of course, I know that your kids are always in the mood. haha. Mine just seem to struggle with the idea.)
Gently touching their shoulder or taking their hand is a way to bridge the gap between their actions and our requests. It reminds them that we’re right there, on their side, wanting them to obey for their good.
3. Make eye contact
Next, we want to make eye contact. This is non-negotiable for how to get kids to listen. We cannot give instructions if the child is not willing to look into our eyes. I usually just wait until they look at me. If you don’t say anything, it’s a natural response for them to give in and look up to see why you called them. If they don’t give in, gently put your hand on their chin and lift it up so you can see their eyes.
4. Use a soft voice
The old saying is still right: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Don’t start off by barking orders at your child or spitting anger into their face. Talk to them in a loving and gentle voice. Treat them the way you would want to be treated if someone was asking you to do something.
5. Do not ask
While we want to be soft and gentle in our speech, we also want to be firm. Do not ask your child if they want to listen to you. I know we don’t do this on purpose, but we still do it. The first way is what I demonstrated above. I formed my instruction to my son as a question. And don’t forget that questions offer options. Maybe he will do it. Maybe he will not.
The other popular way to “ask” is to say “ok?” at the end of a request. Such as, “It’s time for bed, ok?” Basically, we have just asked the child if they want to go to bed. Believe me, we are all guilty of slipping in that little word, but we need to remember that using it makes the request optional. Sometimes when it slips out, I just correct myself by rephrasing the request.
6. Require an answer
This takes some training, but it’s a crucial part of the process in how to get kids to listen. After I have asked my child to do something, I need to wait for their response. I don’t want them to turn and go do it. I want them to verbally agree to the request. I teach my kids to say, “Yes, Mom.” It doesn’t have to be those exact words, but I would caution you against using those “optional” words still.
For example, I really prefer that my children not say “ok” as a response to a request that I have made. Saying “ok” means that they agree with it, like it, or want to do it. At first this might not be a problem, but eventually, they won’t always want to do something that I ask them. Then we will run into issues with their response which will lead to disrespectful behavior or attitudes. It’s better from the start to just agree to do it by saying “Yes, Mom” or “Right on it.” Anything but “ok.” Haha.
If you’d like to go deeper in helping your child understand the importance of a respectful response, consider doing the Fruit of the Tongue Bible study on the power of words.
7. The last resort in how to get kids to listen: must and now
A few years ago I read about how this mom was totally changing her home with the use of 2 little words. These are last resort words. If the child refused to get up and go to bed, she would simply use the two words: must and now. It might sound a little like this: “You must go to bed now.”
I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to use it at first. I really prefer not to be the militant mom and those words seemed so harsh to me. But eventually the time came when a child did not respond to my request and I was stuck. So I tried the words. And guess what? They worked. She got up immediately and obeyed!
I didn’t grit my teeth or spit fire out when I said the words. I still did it as calmly and sweetly as I could muster. And it worked. It’s actually worked countless times since, too. Keep in mind, these are last resort words. I first go through the steps above. Only when the child refuses to do something do I pull out the last resort trick. But it’s been a huge blessing to me when needed.
8. Teach them to obey
This probably goes without saying, but the truth is, all of the above steps will be in vain if we don’t do the hard work of teaching our kids the importance of obedience. As they transition out of the preschool years, it’s time to begin teaching them that God has a very specific command regarding their behavior. We call this the “moral reason why.” It has come in super handy, as I don’t have to rely on my own authority.
Instead, my children are called to obey with purpose – because God told them to. If you’d like to read more about how to get kids to listen with this process, I’d love for you to check out this Bible study on teaching kids to obey.
How do you get kids to listen?
So how about you? Do you follow these steps? How do you get kids to listen? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.