All Articles Parenting Basics Train and Correct

A Proven Way to Get your Kids to Listen the First Time

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

A step-by-step guide to getting your children to respond to a command or instruction the first time it is given. It’s all in the delivery!

Does any of this following dialogue sound familiar to you?

“Please go get your shoes on.” No response.

“Okay, put the game down, it’s time to get ready to go. I’m serious.” Nothing.

“I SAID IT’S TIME TO GO.” Some movement.

“IF YOU DON’T COME RIGHT NOW, NO T.V. FOR A WEEK!!!” Running to the door.

Why can’t they just listen the first time? Why is a simple instruction so difficult to follow? The answer is all in the delivery. In this post, you will learn what to do and say because how you deliver an instruction is equally important as what comes out of your mouth. You won’t need to shout, threaten or cajole. They will obey you simply because you said so. Here are some steps to help you achieve first time obedience to a direction.

Walk over to where he is. This sounds so simple, but how often do we shout an instruction from another room expecting him to do it just because we said it? You communicate volumes about the importance of your instruction by making the effort to deliver it face to face.

Bend down, don’t squat. You probably already know that the best way to talk to children is at eye level. This is very true. However, when you are giving an instruction to your child, don’t squat down (which will likely make you lower than him), bend at your waist to achieve eye level. You will maintain your authoritative stance. Save the squatting for times of nurturance, comfort and mutual conversation.

Place your hand on his shoulder. Simply place one hand on your child’s shoulder. Don’t squeeze, just leave it there until he makes eye contact.

Return the eye contact. Pause for a moment, smile at him and keep your hand on his shoulder. This lack of haste in delivering the message will captivate his attention for a moment. But only for a moment. Wait too long and you may miss your opportunity.

Keep it simple. Now that you have your child’s attention, it is time to deliver the message. Give one simple instruction such as, “Please make your bed neatly now.” Make sure the instruction includes what (what you want him to do), when (the time frame you need it done in), and how (ex: carefully, thoroughly, quickly, etc.). Speak calmly, slowly and in a soft voice. Say it with an air of confidence that conveys you have no doubt he is going to do what you ask him. Keep a pleasant look on your face and maintain eye contact. Knowing the difference between a command and a statement can be very helpful here.

Don’t follow your instruction with the question: “Okay?” If you get up to this point and feel the compulsive need to ask your child if what you just told them is okay with him, you are not alone. It happens to the best of us. But please, please, please resist this temptation. You are not looking for him to agree with you, but to obey you. You can quickly erase all the authority you have worked so hard to establish in this interchange with one small question. Try practicing giving directives in the mirror or with your spouse until you can end your statement with a period instead of a question mark. “Okay?” gives your child the impression that this is a dialogue in which he has some say. You open the door for him to make an argument as to why he shouldn’t do it and now you have two problems to deal with: getting him to do what you wanted originally and addressing his disobedience.

If it sounds like this process is somewhat slow, you are right. It is supposed to be. These multiple, sequential steps will set the stage for the delivery of your message and subsequent first time obedience. Test it out and see if it works for you.

You may also want to try using some “obedience drills” to help your child practice first time obedience.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialization in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.


  • Thank you I need this reminder and you are so right. I just did it and got two kids down to bed. This late night summer bedtime is wearing us all down. Family is going home soon.

    • Nicole – So glad you had success with this tip! Bed time can be hard. Everyone is tired – including mom and dad – so often mole hills turn to mountains. We have found that doing all the bedtime routine (baths, pj’s, brush teeth, stories,etc) earlier in the evening (sometimes even right after dinner) while everyone is fresher can make late summer nights easier. That way when bedtime comes all that is left is tuck in and lights out.


  • Laura,
    Thank you for these clear directions. It does require diligence because moms multi-task. But you have rightly pointed out that the process is definitely worth it.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.