How can I get my kids to listen to me
By Psychologist Betty Chetcuti

Picture this ….  My children are 5, 3, and 18 months old. They do not listen to me and do not follow my instructions, until it gets to fever pitch shouting point. They do listen to my husband and appear perfectly behaved for others. Things feel like they are getting out of control - how can I make my children listen to me so that I am less stressed, and our family is happier?

Communication is a two-way process, involving speakers and listeners.

  • Common complaints by parents are that their children do not listen when there is a communication (or attempted one!).
  • Another useful perspective is that parents are also not communicating effectively in how they speak to their children.

Before you start with “But I tell them 10 times to put their shoes on, what is wrong with my communication – they are the problem, they are not listening!”, consider:

The problem is partly due to telling them 10 times, instead of once.

In addition, given that the very same children will listen perfectly well for others, eg, Dad, teacher, illustrates the dual nature of the communication process.

NB: If you are saying something like “well what else should I do” or “Me again! Mums are always copping it hard and having to make the hard changes”, put these unhelpful thoughts aside for moment….

You can only change yourself. Changes to your behaviour often lead to changes in other’s behaviours.

Instead of discussing how to make our children listen, start with changing how we speak to our children. The benefits include:

  • improved communication between parents and children
  • better role-modelling for effective communication. Children will pick up how to communicate in a new and more effective manner.
  • happier mum because communication becomes less stressful
  • happier mum because of increased sense of control and competence
  • happier mum because time spent repeating self becomes time to calm self down and think of effective solutions to the communication impasse.
  • happier mum because mum gets to spend more time being calm in the face on non-compliance.
  • This all directly affects our children’s attitudes, feelings and behaviours. Children are calmer and less stressed in general. Instead of being conditioned to ignore mum’s requests whilst noticing her rising frustration, children learn to be tuned in to mum much earlier. Also, when they have not listened, mum does not react so strongly, but still makes her point clear.

The single biggest predictor of children’s happiness is mum’s happiness. This alone is great motivation, even with the enormous burden of motherhood.

Some tips:

  • Train yourself to say it once. Instead of repeating self, say it only once.
  • Three times per day. Decide to limit the number of times you tell your children off per day. Three times is a good start. This will help you to determine whether what you want to happen is really really really that important in the big scheme of things.
  • Go to calm. When children do not listen, as often happens, ensure that you stay calm. Deep breath, count to 10, focus very hard on their positive features and on yours!, take some time out – 10 seconds may be enough; become aware of your feelings and your thinking.
  • Start small and on easy things. Start asking your children things they will say ‘yes’ to, or are more likely to be compliant about, eg, “would you like some spaghetti for dinner”, or “would you like a playover with favourite friend”.
  • ...and then reward. Follow up your child’s response with “I really like it when you answer me when I have asked you a question. That’s really very thoughtful of you”. NB: Rewards are not to be simply viewed as carrots for good behaviour. This will lead to increased expectation, pressure, and stress for parents and children . Instead, focus on identifying how you feel as a parent when your child listens and then communicate this experience to them. Your child will notice the difference between simply saying it and really meaning it! In addition, you will have an awareness of the impact of improved communication on yourself.
  • Sometimes, you need to start again or leave it for now. If you are having the experience of “What is wrong with them?” you are far too upset and should abandon the idea of ‘trying to get my kids to listen to me” – it wont work (Just check over the past no. of times you have tried to get through to your children when you are calm versus frustrated…)
  • Find alternatives to repeating, getting frustrated. Stay focused and calm. The issue is to keep taking small steps in the right direction, versus being frustrated and way off track. For whatever it is you want your children to do, find another way to deal with the situation. For example, when one of my children does not want to do their homework, I will encourage them to go up and just start on one idea, or to practice just once, instead of five times when they are doing their piano practice.
  • If you or child are busy, sick or tired, let the issue go. For example, this morning when my child did not get their shirt ready to be ironed for school, and I was starting to get frustrated, I quickly realize that I was tired from a bad night’s sleep, and that I was not in the right frame of mind to deal with non-complaince, so I let it go. I got the shirt myself, ironed it, and did not make an issue of it, ie, I did not reprimand or lecture them. I turned a potentially arugumentative episode into one where I feel back in control and happy with the situation.


General rules applicable at all steps:

Keep it simple, stay calm, in 5 minutes there will be another opportunity to practice listening/non-repeating, what has worked well today? Remind yourself that this will take time for both of you to learn! The time you spend repeating yourself, is time lost finding better ways to deal with the situation.




1. Ask children something.

Keep it simple (5 words or so)

"Running outside please", "Bath time", "Ben time to do your homework"

2. If they listen, fabulous

Let them know you appreciate listening. Be positive and loving.

“Well done!” “I really like when you listen"

3. If they do not listen, stop      
It is vital that you do not repeat yourself.  

4. Find a way to be calm: don’t react, don’t repeat yourself, take a deep breath and think

Takes sheer willpower. Use this plan as a reminder. If frustrated or you have repeated the request, go back to step 3.

“Ok, they have not listened. If I repeat myself now, I will stay angry, and will reinforce our current patterns. The worst that will happen is dinner will be cold, I can deal with that!.”

5. Have a consequence ready


A consequence IS NOT A PUNISHMENT.
It is the direct result of a behaviour.

"Dinner isn’t so nice when it gets cold"


6. Have a calm chat about listening. Only have one of these per day –so choose wisely which episode of non-compliance you want to address.

Remind child not to interrupt you if they get defensive. Keep it simple. Quickly go back to activity at hand, eg, bath-time, story time.

"Today when I asked you to do X, you didn’t listen. I don’t like it when you ignore me. I would like you to listen when I speak to you".

7.  Stuck? Go back to step three.

8. Still stuck? Getting angrier? Look at child’s perspective – are they overly tired, busy, stressed or are you? Go to step four.

Tired, busy, stressed, sick are signs you really should go easy on you and the children. Find a way for them to comply without repeating yourself.

Help the child to the table.

9. Still stuck. You will have another instance like this to practice remaining calm and not repeating yourself.

Tomorrow is another day.

“I’m doing the best I can. Feels like it is not good enough, but at least I didn’t repeat myself. Am doing well so far.”

Betty Chetcuti, BBSC (Hons), MEDPsych, MAPS Psychologist....and mother of three can be contacted on  She runs her own website