Help: My child won’t listen to me

Friday, 04 Jun 2021


When we are blessed with our precious children, and we watch them grow and develop in skills, confidence and independence, we realise that some of our quickly spoken words were spoken in haste and are possibly quite foolish. 

We realise that parenting is more complex than we thought it might be. It takes great wisdom and time to nurture, support and grow our children. Often in encouraging, supporting and developing, we find that it is, in fact, equally about us as parents growing alongside our children. From their perspective in life, we see their curiosity in learning new things, their joy in small things, and their love and acceptance for the people they interact with each day. 

There are many times where we pray that our children will learn from us. We teach our children to understand the world around them, make wise choices, and choose to do hard things when they don’t feel like it. We teach our children what is safe and what is not and want them to learn from the life experiences that we have gained in our time in the world.

As parents, we have the potential to provide helpful advice to our children, as we know them more intimately than a teacher or a coach may do. We often want to give our children advice to protect them from what we believe are the mistakes that we have experienced. Yet, we also know that it is often through making mistakes that we learn the most. Our hearts desire is to coach and guide our children.

Though, there are times that our precious children will struggle or will refuse to listen to us. They will believe that they already know the information that we are hoping to share or that they are just unwilling to listen. There are many reasons for our children not wanting to listen to us. These could include feeling tired or overwhelmed, not understanding what is being communicated, being arrogant and unwilling to listen, amongst many other reasons.

It is essential to try and figure out why our children are not listening. Often, the lack of response is a symptom, not the actual problem. It’s best to deal with the main issue; otherwise, you may end up dealing with more significant behaviour issues such as defiance, tantrums and backtalk.

Children like to feel in control. There are not many areas in their world that they can do this. They have command over their body and language and will use this at times to defy our requests. By choosing not to listen, children can try and assert their power. By implementing a few positive parenting techniques, you can help your child to feel heard and to assist them to listen to you. 

For your pre-schooler: 

  • Pay attention to times when they listen to you and praise them for doing so. 
  • Take the time to listen fully to what your child has to say and agree where appropriate. If you disagree, say so. 
  • Take the time to let them know the proper behaviour that you expect from them. Set your limit and stick with it. 
  • Give directions while being close to your child and making eye contact with them when appropriate. This helps you to ensure that they have heard the instruction and may be more willing to comply. 

For your Primary aged child:

  • Get on their level to talk and give directions. Make eye contact. Speak with your child rather than at your child. Give your child your full attention. 
  • Instead of saying don’t, replace with what they can do. Instead of ‘Don’t touch your brother’, try ‘Use a gentle touch with your brother’. 
  • Consider times when you can say yes instead of no. 
  • Shorten your speech. Be as concise as possible, so your child is less likely to tune you out. 
  • Ensure comprehension by asking your child to repeat back to you what you have said. 
  • Make an observation: ‘What is your plan for taking care of the bins today?’ It assumes that your child has a plan and allows them to save face and do what needs to be done. 

For your teenager: 

  • Wait for the right moment. Our child must be in a place where they can hear our communication. Allow them to cool down or not be upset before discussing things. 
  • Listen to their concerns. Don’t interrupt them while talking. Give them your full attention. While they may not like the rules and boundaries set, they are more likely to accept them if they feel listened to and respected. 
  • Be clear on what you want to communicate. What is the one piece of information you want to relay to your child? State your information clearly, and don’t allow your child to drag you off course.
  • It’s not personal. When your child ignores you or becomes frustrated with you, remain calm. State the facts. You don’t have to attend every fight you are invited to. 
  • Have clear rules and expectations. Keep your conversations focused on expectations and not on your child’s understanding of fairness. 
  • Stay on message. Sometimes our teens will try and change the subject if they don’t want to follow the rules. They may justify their point of view or raise their voices to get their way. Stay calm and clear on what you are trying to communicate.  

When helping our children to listen, ensure you are calm yourself, connect with your child and engage cooperation with empathy. Connect, come alongside and coach them. Pray for wisdom as you parent your children, making the best decisions you can in each moment, with God’s understanding and guidance with you. 

Tara Waller
Head of Primary Years