How to Get Kids to Listen

If children would just listen, then parenting would be so much easier, right? How can we ensure that we say the right things at the right time and in the right way so that our kids will actually do what we say? Here are 4 key points that will have you well on your way to more peaceful communication.

1.Assess the situation. If the dialogue you are trying to have is happening in a Code Red (i.e. the little person that you love with every fiber of your being is falling out on the floor kicking and screaming), then stop and reevaluate. Our kids can’t hear a word we say when they are in that kind of a state. They can’t reason. They can’t rationalize. They are stuck. Their brains have literally shut down. We have to diffuse the situation either by providing physical touch and reassurance or giving them the space to work it out before we begin any kind of conversation. It’s our job to move them through it, so that we can get to it.

2. Say it softly. That’s code for “Stop yelling.” No matter how difficult, tense, or emotional things get, and no matter how epic the tantrum we have to stop yelling. It damages the structure of our children’s brains. We have to take a deep breath, count to 10 (or 50), or put ourselves in timeout. We just need to continue to try really hard to speak our piece in a “talking voice” rather than a “yelling voice.”

3. Minimize the words. As parents, we do such a good job of talking. And then talking some more. And then talking some more to make sure our child understands what we are talking about. As a result, we lose our children very early on in that talking process, and they tune us out. Our words have to be clear and precise: “It’s time to put your shoes on and get in the car. Do you need my help to do that or can you do it on your own?” Rather than: It’s time to go to school. If you don’t put on your shoes, then we are going to be late. That will make your teachers so sad. You won’t be able to watch TV later if you don’t put on your shoes. 1….2….. I said put on your shoes!” Less is more when it comes to communicating with our kids.

4. Validate. A little bit of empathy is profound when it comes to our children (and really us too!). Children have a tendency to relax when they feel like they are being heard, when they feel seen. If you see your child struggling, then name that for them. “I can tell you are really frustrated. It is hard to stop your drawing work to help set the table for dinner.” A simple validation can get both you and your child to the same page more quickly. You will feel heard and so will they. They will be more likely to listen if they feel like you did the same. Empathy is a secret weapon.

Communication is one of the most important and most exhausting things that we do as parents, and it is critical to our success. Stay the course. You are doing a great job.

Find the joy~


Jessica McCauley, M.Ed. is a parenting coach/consultant. She draws on her background as a Montessori educator and Child Life Specialist to help families navigate the challenges of the early childhood years. Contact Jessica at for more information or to schedule a consultation.