Why Your Child Is Not Listening

Why are they not listening?

We had a parent ask us this on our Facebook page last week so I thought, you know what, this is a great topic to discuss.

So why is your child not listening?

Well I have another question for you.

What makes you think that your child's priorities are the same as yours?

What makes you think that?

That's one of the reasons they're not listening.

Their priorities are different from yours.

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Kids have different priorities than you do.

So let's imagine a toddler or a preschooler, they're very engaged in playing with their blocks or their trains or their dolls.

They're engaged in learning something.

They're outside and they're figuring out the bark is peeling off the tree, and there's leaves on the ground, and they're making interesting sounds.

Or sometimes they are watching maybe a cartoon or a kid's show, or maybe you have them on your tablet, and if they're doing this and they're engaged in what they're doing.

Guess what?

Their brain is working hard to map out all of that information.

They are very busy exploring and trying to map out that world around them.

So they may just ignore you.

They may just not hear you.

They are so busy engaged in their own little world.

Let's take a first grader or even a middle schooler.

Their brains are in a stage of constantly re-wiring, and gaining new information so they may be overwhelmed by all that's happening in their brain and all of that stimulus, therefore, guess what happens?

They might tune you out.

So now if you realize that they're not really ignoring you to ignore you, I know it's annoying, believe me.

My kids are in their 20's and I remember those moments where I used to say, "Oh you have selective hearing loss."

Let's not be annoyed by it now because we know why they're doing it.

It's not on purpose.

It's because their brains can't handle anything different than what their priority is right now.

How to get your child to listen

You want to know how am I going to get my child to listen to me? Well the first thing you have to do is compose yourself.

As Dr. Becky Bailey likes to say, "STAR - Smile, Take a breath, and Relax."

Three belly breaths is the secret to getting you composed because if you're on edge about this, or if you're feeling annoyed, you're not going to get any further than the point where you're at right now.

So stop, take a breath, smile, take a breath, and relax and compose yourself.

Make eye contact with your child because you must connect with them.

Be present and acknowledge what they're doing.

"Oh, you're in the middle of making a very long train and you're trying to get it through the tunnel."

If you have a teenager or a middle schooler, there are a lot of emotions happening there.

Acknowledge, "You're having a really rough day because you got a rip in your favorite jeans. That's really, really hard. I'm so sorry."

Just acknowledge their feelings. They're very emotional.

So acknowledge what your child is doing or acknowledge what they are feeling.

The eye contact that you make with them shows that you are right in line with them, and you are ready to listen to them.

Once you feel connected, and once you have acknowledged them, then state what you want them to do.

State what you want them to do.

Don't ask them.

State what you want them to do, do not ask them.

"Oh dinner's ready, would you like to come in for dinner now?"

Well if they're in the middle of playing, or they're in the middle of watching a TV show, what are they going to say?

They're going to say, "No."

Don't ask.

Be the narrator of their video.

Just state it assertively. "Dinner is ready. It's time to come in now."

" I see that you're playing with your train, and you're building a long train, and you're trying to push it through the tunnel. Let's see if you can do it. We're going to count and see if you can do it."

Give them a minute, watch what they do, "Oh you're doing it, it's going through the tunnel. Oh, you did it. You pushed the train through the tunnel. Now dinner's ready. It's time to come in, sit in a chair and have dinner with us."

State it assertively, matter of factly.

"The sky is blue. The grass is green. It's time for dinner. Come on in and sit down."

If you sound like you're ordering them, guess what's going to happen?

They're going to tune you out.

Boy, if somebody is ordering you around all day, you cannot stand it, and you're going to tune them out. If somebody is having a very frank, clear conversation with you, you're going to tend to listen.

Use a lot of very short, simple, direct words.

We want you to be very direct. Use a very matter of fact voice. Like, "The sky is blue, the grass is green."

No questions. Do not ask your child questions when it's time for them to do something that you want them to do, or that you need them to do, or it's a time in their day where a schedule is happening, you don't need to ask them questions.

By asking them questions, you are empowering them.

You don't need to be empowering them for this.

You need to state what needs to happen, and do it in a lovely, warm and lovingly way so that you're not giving orders.

Things that might help younger ones:

  • Routines help a lot.

    If your child has a set routine everyday, they know what to expect. They know that when they get up, they go to the potty, they brush their teeth, then they put their clothes on, and maybe they have ten minutes of play, and maybe it's breakfast time, and then maybe it's time to gather the things to get in the car to go where you're going.

    If your child has a challenge with routines, a great secret, and this comes from Dr. Becky Bailey from Conscious Discipline, get photographs of all the things, the steps that you want them to do, and print them off on computer paper, and put them up on a board. Then you can always take your child to that picture board and say, "Okay we did this. What's next?" And they're going to see the picture that's next.

    This is really a great tool to help your child with routines and to help your child know what they need to do next.

    Teenagers may need a check list. That's fine too. Any tool you can use to help them through the things that they have to do in their routine, is going to be helpful.

  • Model good listening behavior.

    Yeah, that means you. How many times are you talking to a friend and your child is saying, "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom" And they're tugging at your leg, and you're saying, "Just a minute, I'm talking to my friend. I'm talking to my friend, you're going to have to wait." Well guess what? Your priority of talking to your friend, and your child's priority of needing you because they want to show you that they colored a tree, the priorities are different.

    You have to realize that. So you need to stop and breathe, your friend can wait for 30 seconds, turn and acknowledge your child. "Oh, you colored a tree. You worked very hard on that. I'm going to finish talking to Aunt Ellen, and then I'm going to come over and see the rest of your drawings."

    You have to stop and acknowledge them. Their priorities are different.

What happens when you ignore them?

Their feelings escalate.

They're starting to get annoyed.

They're starting to get stressed.

And pretty soon they're tugging on you.

And they're saying, "Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom."

And then you get annoyed.

So realize that you need to model good listening behavior for them, which means you need to stop, and turn and look at them, and acknowledge them, make eye contact, touch them and say, "Oh, I see, you wanted this." Then you can let them know you're going to finish your conversation with your friend, and then you're going to come help them.

  • See inside your child's head.

    The fact that they're not listening to you, or the fact that they're tugging on you and you're not listening to them, it's not annoying really, it's just that they need help with something. And you're here to help them and teach them.


I would love to hear in the comments, do you have an issue with your child not listening? And better yet, let's be honest, do you tune out your child when your priorities are different? Think about how that feels to your child.