getting kids to listen without losing your voice

Getting an adult to listen to you is relatively easy—when two grownups have an issue, they can usually sit down, discuss their feelings and resolve it. But getting your kids to pay attention to you can be a whole lot trickier. And that’s a real problem, since you need them to listen to you all the time, about all sorts of things.

The result? We parents find ourselves saying the same things over and over and over to our kids. And then we find ourselves yelling them.

So here are five tips to help get your kids to hear what you have to say—before you develop a full-fledged case of laryngitis.

1) Model the Behavior You’d Like to See

You can actually start communicating messages to your kids before you even open your mouth. That’s because parents are powerful role models in their children’s lives. So just seeing you do something will make it more likely that your kids will want to do it too.

This is great news! If you want your kid to keep her room clean, make sure that your bed is made and your dirty underpants are put in the hamper on a regular basis too. This makes the behavior you want to see in your child seem standard (plus you won’t seem like a total hypocrite later).

The bad news? Modeling also applies to negative behavior, like cursing. So when you hear your little one yell, “Outta my way, a-hole!” from the backseat of the car, it’s almost definitely your fault.

2) Get Their Attention!!!

Sometimes the hardest part of getting your kids to listen to you is getting their attention in the first place. Maybe they’re mid-tantrum, in the throes of a heated sibling dispute or just too busy doing their own thing to switch gears and listen to what you want them to do.

So surprise them into listening to you by doing something totally unexpected.

Try tickles, back pats or a massage to distract from that tantrum. Get close and whisper a joke to make them forget their fight. Sing a song to help your kids transition from one thing to another. Or bust out some totally insane dance moves you haven’t done since college to get them to finally look up and notice you.

Whatever it takes, people. Whatever it takes.

3) Keep It Brief

As much as you get sick of giving your kids lectures, they get sick of hearing them. So instead of boring your kids with the same long, drawn-out explanation that they’re unlikely to listen to anyway, try switching it up by being as brief as possible, like this:

  • Say it in one sentence. Instead of repeating your full rationale for why kids need to put their dishes in the sink after every meal, just say: “Remember to put your dishes away!”
  • Try a quick question. This can help you be even briefer, while also forcing children to analyze their own behavior: “What did we forget?”
  • Use just one word. If it’s a frequent issue, your kids probably need very little input from you to get the message. So the single word “Dishes!” might just do the trick.

4) Write a Note

Try saving your voice altogether and writing a note instead. Kids may have heard your message a thousand times, but seeing the message in this new way may help them finally get it!

You can use the power of the written word to help:

  • Promote behavior—a note in the bathroom that says, “Remember to wash your hands!”
  • Prevent behavior—a sign at a play place that says, “Do not climb this fence.”
  • Comment on behavior—a letter on the kitchen table that says, “Mr. Dish lives in the cupboard, and now he’s homesick because you forgot to put him away yesterday!”

Think this won’t work because your kid can’t read yet? Think again! Kids are intrigued by text, especially during the preschool years when they’re first learning about it, so they’ll want to know what you’ve written. Plus, using text in new and unexpected ways like this can help promote those budding reading skills!

5) Stay Positive

Sick of hearing yourself nag? Then stop focusing so much on bad behavior—and reward the good behavior you see instead. Telling your kids that you notice when they’re doing something extra good or rewarding them with a few extra kisses and cuddles can help them actually want to be good.

And isn’t that what you really want?

If you have an ingenious trick for getting your kids to listen to you, we want to hear about it—share your stories in the comments below!

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  • Michele

    Don’t count down! (“Stop playing with that. If you don’t stop, we’re leaving the store….Five. Four…Three…”) That kid has been studying you since the day he was born, and knows to the MILLESECOND how long he can push it. Whenever I hear a parent count down, I know he or she has already lost the battle. One chance and then a consequence. Don’t get angry. Just leave the store and go home. Put the video game away. Sure, it makes it inconvenient, but it’s worth it in the long run.

    • Goldie Locks

      Counting down is just as effective as walking straight out. You just need to make sure at the end of the count you follow through. Walking out really isn’t an option. My kids are human not dogs. They have personality and desires, just like you. I don’t count angry but I count. Why do I count? Because they are not dogs. You can’t snap your fingers and make them heel. They are involved with looking at something, playing, talking to a friend or reading. Anyone who responds to the demand of stop what you’re doing and come here within 5 seconds is pretty impressive. You yourself probably don’t leap up and rush to anyone within 5 seconds of them telling you to come here. You say, one sec let me save my work, hold on I’m almost finished with my sandwich, gimme a second I’m in the middle of an email. Even if you go to your own car you grab your glasses and keys, maybe a purse or wallet, go pee before you leave, check how you look in the mirror. How about you tailor your opinion to, a countdown by an already screaming parent who clearly has no control whatsoever over their children is ineffectual. But really…. For them it was never the fault of the countdown which is also professionally called transition time, it’s the overall parenting and even if they walked out the kids would still walk over a parent who had lost control. Why? Because it’s against the law to abandon your kid and they know it. They know you’re not going to hop in the car and drive away. The respect and compliance you get from your kids doesn’t come from the countdown, the screaming, or the walking out. It comes from being a parent ALL the time not just pretending in public.

      • Michele

        You neglected that I said “one chance.” Also, I said not to get angry. There is no snapping of fingers and certainly you do not walk out on your child. You NEVER threaten something you can’t or won’t follow through on. I found it beneficial for my children to recite the rules before any situation so they were clear; all were agreed and the behavior I expected from them was fresh in their minds. Obviously, these are rules for small children, not teenagers. As for following through a count down, perhaps you did it, but working in public spaces for many years, I have never seen that happen.

  • Karen Sandness

    I’m not a parent, but one of the parenting behaviors I see that could cause a child to tune out is keeping up a constant line of chatter at the child. I see this all the time in coffee shops. Mom or Dad is talking away at the child about nothing in particular. Not surprisingly, the child decides that this is unimportant, especially since Mom or Dad does not seem to be seeking a response, and tunes out the parent’s voice. If you want your child to listen to you, engage him or her. If you want them to notice something, ask a simple, direct question. “Do you see that big dog out there?” instead of going on and on in a monologue, “There’s a big dog out there. I wonder what kind of dog it is. I’d like to have a big dog like that, but we don’t have room in our house and it would cost too much to feed and it might not be safe to have a dog that large until you’re a little older…”

    • Goldie Locks

      You are 100% right. Don’t talk to them, talk with them.

  • artandtruth

    While this article is excellent, I would like to point out an ambiguous graphic message regarding the photo and subject matter. The picture is hauntingly evocative of a classic Autism symptom of usual play. Autistic children often lie down and “stare” at the moving parts of toys–especially trains–while pushing a wheeled toy back and forth repetitively. They also do not seem to “hear” and so early childhood educators and medical practitioners often administer hearing tests as the first step in ruling out ASD. Sadly a huge number of children go undiagnosed and are considered oppositional or non-compliant due to their perceived unwillingness to follow directives. Obviously, this was a sadly ironic mistake, but this could easily be a stock photo for an article about ASD. As an advocate for Autism Awareness, I thought I would be remiss in not pointing this out. Once again, the writing and article are outstanding and I don’t want to negate the quality of the writing or demonize the designer.

  • Goldie Locks

    I tell my son what I expect then I ask him to repeat it back to me. Because he knows he’ll have to repeat it then he has no choice but to listen.
    Me: I need you to make your bed. Please remember to get all your stuffed animals off the floor and set them up nicely. What are you going to do to help me?
    Son: I’m going to go make my bed and stack the animals up. Mom you know I can never get the big blanket straight!
    Me: that’s ok, do the best you can and if it needs a little tucking in I’ll do that when I come in.
    Son: ok
    Son: MOM! MOM!
    Me: What? Why are you yelling?!
    Son: My bed is perfect. Don’t mess it up.
    Me: ok good job I’ll check it out.

  • Goldie Locks

    I only bought my kids educational video games. They like them. It helps knowing they’re getting something out of playing. My youngest was doing algebra by 4. Also most kids are naturally active. Give them a place to play or take them to a park and they forget all about computers or video games. I made a rope swing on my tree and my oldest taught himself to rappel by 5. So I don’t blame the games I blame the lack of opportunity to play. Kids play whatever you offer, so parents need to step up and stop being too lazy to take their kids to the park.

  • Tilapia Jenkins

    I’m not going to take parenting advice from a Polish doctor

  • John Wallace

    It seems like spanking seems to be a lots art with new parents to get there children to listen. Spare the rob and spoil the child.

    • Michele

      Actually, that is a biblical reference to a shepherd, often misquoted, and is about gently leading his charges, as would a shepherd.

      • John Wallace

        I’m not sure what verse you are referring to, but this would be the bible verse I was attempting to quote though possibly not 100% correctly.
        Proverbs 13:24
        Choose your bible translation.

        • Michele

          The confusion is in the translation of “rod” and “staff,” from what I understand. A shepherd’s rod was a club to fight away predators and a staff was used to guide the sheep. Obviously, clubbing a child wouldn’t solve anything but what you’d be doing for the next twenty years. I like the quote which substitutes “discipline” for “rod.” I think most folk have problems enough with that. : (

          • John Wallace

            There isn’t any confusion if you read the Bible verse what to do if you love your children.

          • Michele

            The bible was translated, over and over, so of course there is confusion, even in the link you sent me. I don’t think we’re going to reach agreement on this one. Anything I say is going to sound like disrespect to your beliefs, and I don’t want to do that. I’m not saying that spanking isn’t a necessary recourse from time to time, but a better way to teach listening skills and respect is through example and cause-and-effect. They’re a lot harder than whacking a kid, but they’re more effective in the long run.

          • John Wallace

            I suggest going to a church of your choice and listening to God’s word explained by trained ministers. Thanks for the civil conversation. God bless you.

          • Michele

            And the same to you, John Wallace! Have a blessed new year!

  • Emma Craig

    When the TV is on, I have no chance of being heard. Electronics of any kind need to be turned off before my daughter can focus on what I’m saying. (Same goes for husbands, lol!)