Child Doesn’t Listen

“My child doesn’t listen.”

This is a common complaint of parents everywhere. If your child seems to have a serious listening problem (he doesn’t answer when his name is called and he doesn’t even move when you ask him to do something and his non-listening occurs almost always) do get his ears checked! If his ears are in working order, he may have an auditory processing deficit (words are heard fine but don’t go in the brain properly) or he may have ADD, attention deficit disorder , or in severe cases of refusing to listen he may have oppositional defiance disorder (ODD). In most cases, however, poor listening occurs because the child doesn’t feel like doing what his parents asked him to do!

It’s Your Fault
Sorry to have to tell you this, but if your child has a listening problem – and particularly if your child has a listening problem with YOU but not with his teachers or other parent – then  it’s probably your fault. This means that you are inadvertently teaching your child not to listen to you. Don’t worry – this is more common than you might imagine and it’s curable! If you want your child to listen – YOU have to stop talking. Let’s look at an example that illustrates the point:

Suppose Mother tells her 10 year old daughter to go to bed. The daughter says, “I’m just finishing this game – I’ll go in a minute.” Ten minutes pass and the child is still at the computer. Mother says again, “I want you to go to bed now.” The child says, “O.K. I’ve just got to get my pencil I left downstairs.” While downstairs, the youngster decides she’s hungry and so makes herself a little snack. Mother shouts down, “Where are you?” The daughter says, “I’m just having a glass of milk. I’ll be up in a minute.” Mother gets busy with something else but notices 10 minutes later that her daughter is still not upstairs. “HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU TO GET UP HERE AND GO TO BED?!”she bellows in exasperation. “Coming,” her daughter responds in her lackadaisical way. And the scene continues on and on like this while Mother tries to get this kid to brush her teeth, put her pajamas on and get into bed. Mother complains that her daughter “just doesn’t listen.”

Getting kids to bed seems to be a major challenge for most parents. Many parents complain that their kids don’t listen when they try to get them settled for the night or turn off the computer. But if parents are willing to ask and ask and ask and ask, then their kids learn that not even the parents are listening! The parents don’t take themselves seriously, so why should the kids take them seriously? An important rule for parents is to never ask anything more than two times. This is called the 2X-Rule (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for detailed description of the 2X-Rule). Instead of asking over and over again until you are exasperated, ask anything only two times. On the second request, give your child a choice: either do what I’m asking you to do, or there will be an unpleasant consequence of your non-compliance.

In practicality, the conversation on Mom or Dad’s part might sound like this:

Parent: Please get ready for bed now.

Parent: I asked you to get ready for bed. If you aren’t ready for bed when I get back here in 5 minutes, then such & such will happen.

(“Such & such” can be any mildly unpleasant consequence such as “you will not have a bedtime story” or “you won’t be allowed to go on the computer tomorrow evening.” Come up with a list of negative consequences or use the list and guidelines in Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice. Choose a consequence that is unpleasant enough for your child that he or she will not one to experience it more than a couple of times. No negative consequence should last longer than 24 hours and even a few minutes can be effective, depending on the child. Do not use harsh punishments as these can harm the child and lead to an increase in bad behavior .)

Parent (coming back 5 minutes later and finding child still not ready for bed): I’m sorry, but you’re not in bed, so now “such & such” will happen.  

Angry parents scare children and can even traumatize them. Anger can destroy the parent-child relationship, sometimes even permanently. On the other hand, the effective use of discipline (especially using the 2X-Rule) prevents anger. Good discipline helps children behave while it keeps them emotionally safe and healthy.

Helping Kids Listen
Parents complain that kids don’t listen when kids don’t do what they’ve just been asked to do. Parents can help kids listen by using discipline when they don’t listen. Here are some behaviors that respond very well to effective discipline:

  • Getting kids into bed
  • Getting children to come to the table for dinner
  • Getting children to try a small bite of a new food
  • Getting teenagers to remember to put gas in the car
  • Getting teenagers to remember to call home
  • Getting children to stop whining
  • Getting children to stop hitting adults
  • Getting children to stop biting
  • Getting children to stop fighting with siblings
  • Getting children to stop arguing
  • Getting children to clean up their toys
  • Getting children to clean up their mess
  • Getting children to come when you call them
  • Getting children to get ready for school in the morning
  • Getting kids out of bed in the morning

Virtually any inappropriate behavior can be modified using discipline when discipline is used appropriately (in the right proportion and in the right way). Help your kids listen by listening to yourself when you speak! Never ask a child more than twice. Take your own words seriously. When you are speaking calmly, in a normal, pleasant tone of voice, you can be perfectly serious. You don’t ever need to be screaming in order to get your message across! In fact, screaming is hard on you and highly destructive to your kids. When kids don’t listen, don’t speak louder. Instead, use more clout. Speak softly but use discipline: quietly let your child know what unpleasant consequence will occur if he or she does not cooperate with your softly spoken request! Then be sure to carry through. In most cases, these strategies will help your children to listen better.

Consider Professional Assessment
If your child does not respond to any of your interventions, consider consulting a mental health practitioner for further direction.

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