Skip to content

What to do when your child won't listen

When children don't listen

young girl rubbing her eye crying as parent shouts at her


Do you ever have those days where no matter what you do or say your children just DON’T listen.

Maybe they never listen and this is a daily occurrence?

You approach them in your nicest parent voice and ask them to do something.

They ignore you.

So you calmly ask again.

They ignore you.

So now through gritted teeth you start to lose it a little bit. You start to feel disrespected and now it’s game over for everyone.

Perhaps at this point your shouting and then they suddenly listen. So you think shouting is the only way to communicate to them? When really this isn’t communicating effectively at all and it’s not the way we deep down want to raise our children.

Imagine a household where theres no shouting, there’s more co-operation than power struggles and there’s really effective communication. Trust me – it’s possible!


1. Use Positive Commands

When you want your child to change their behaviour, always say what you want in the positive.

When talking to children refrain from statements that start negatively such as, “Don’t do that”. “Stop it” or “No!”. When a child with a young developing brain hears such statements they don’t often hear the full sentence. For example, you may say “Don’t touch that fragile ornament” and they may only hear “Touch the fragile ornament”. Below I’ve listed some ways of communicating what you DO want your children to do. Over time this becomes a habit and you will really be conscious when you do default to using “don’t, stop, no” statements.


“DON’T run near the road” becomes “Move away from the side of the road please”

“STOP running” becomes “Can you walk slowly back to the car”

“STOP touching everything you’re going to break the ornaments!” becomes “Please can you watch where you are putting your hands as there are fragile ornaments”

“DON’T be so loud!” becomes “ Please talk quietly/Use your whisper voice near your baby sister as she is sleeping”


Start becoming aware of your dialogues with your children. Now you have read this I promise you’re going to pick yourself up on this when you do default to your old pattern of communicating. Also, when you look at these statements written down you can sense how they would make someone FEEL and ask yourself how they would make you feel?

If someone said to me “Don’t be so loud!” I would feel a lot more uptight and embarrassed than if someone said to me “Please talk quietly as the baby is sleeping”. If you wouldn’t like to be spoken to a certain way your child won’t either.


2. Give Choices

Parents giving children choices helps them develop a sense of autonomy. It really empower children and those who are ‘strong willed’ and independent definitely appreciate being given choices opposed to being told what to do. Not only that it helps children feel in control and be able to form their own decisions. Making good choices is a skill that children will use for the rest of their lives.


Let’s look at some examples:

“Would you like to put your shoes on now or in the next five minutes?”

“Which toothbrush would you like to use?”

“Would you like a ham or cheese sandwich?”

“Which bowl and plate would you like to use?”

“Would you like to use crayons or paint today?”

If you find you are struggling with your child you could also incorporate some fun choices into the mix. So if you’re having a battle getting your child going upstairs to bed you could ask “Would you like to fly up the stairs like superman or go slowly up each step like a robot?” (I often have to fly my 4 year old up the stairs like superman despite telling her one day I won’t be strong enough to keep carrying her!)

Again, think about how you would feel if someone said “Get your shoes on now”, or if they said “Were going out soon so you could get your shoes on now or in five minutes.” It sounds silly but really do think about how some of the statements you use to your child would make an adult feel.


3. Instead of punishments encourage cooperation 

When parents punish their children it makes children feel bad, ashamed and also resentful towards the parent. And when a child feels bad about themselves it takes the focus off what has actually happened and decreases their self esteem. Punishments do more harm than good and the lesson you want to teach is never really taught.

In a situation where you would usually default to one of your discipline techniques try


a) Stating what you see.

“I see that you have spilt paint all over the floor”


“There’s a beautiful mess all over the floor but we’re going to have to clean this up!”


b) Then give information about the problem instead of accusations and blaming.


“Someone could slip on that paint and the paint can also stain the furniture”


“I would hate for someone to stand on that and not see it.”


c) Make it about you.


Tell them how it makes you feel (It’s important not to pull their character apart here or label/name call them by saying things like “You’re so clumsy” or “I’m fed up of you always making a mess”. What you want to do here is talk about your feelings (this also models to them how to communicate theirs).


“Paint on the floor really upsets me as I don’t want to ruin the furniture as I like to look after things”


4. Brain storm solutions

You can write them down or talk about them. This helps parent and child be in relationship with one another opposed to division or segregation. Children don’t mean to do things that upset you and we don’t want to push them away, reject, shame or isolate them should they make a mistake. Brain storming solutions is a great way to cooperate together. When this becomes the norm your child will naturally start to find solutions. (I have at times found my two and four year old cleaning up their own mess should they spill a drink or drop something. They will go and find wipes or a cleaning cloth and just clean it up by themselves!)


Brain storming solutions also helps children feel in control and part of a team.

“I think we need to clean this paint up. Any ideas how we can do this? Mop, wipes, spray, etc”


“Hmmm I think were going to have to get rid of this paint somehow? Do you have any suggestions?”

I hope some of these suggestions have been useful and I’d love to know if you use any of these ideas with your children.

The intension is to move away from shouting, power struggles and having less hostility in the household.

These ways foster a more peaceful, gentle, connective way.

If you are struggling at all and would like some one to one support in a non judgemental safe space you can book a call with me here:

“This process is worth it.  I thought of it as an investment in myself and my family’s future, and my goal was simply to be a better parent, and I just didn’t have the skills, and this process provides that.  The time investment is worth it, because you really get to work on the process, you get to explore your inner workings, you learn new skills.  I would say if you feel called to do this process, there is a reason for that and I do not think you will regret it.” – Izzy. Washington.

Want to read what other parents said after the Ultimate Parenting Success Course?