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A Proven Way to Get Kids to Listen the First Time

Laura Kuehn, LCSW
Written by Laura Kuehn, LCSW

If it’s hard for you to get kids to listen to your instructions, the following dialogue will 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. 

Here are some steps to help you communicate in a way that your kids respond the first time an instruction is given.

Step 1: 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.

Step 2: Bend down

You probably already know that the best way to talk to children is at eye level. When you take the time to get on their level, it communicates to them that what comes next is important.

Step 3: Place your hand on his shoulder, wait for eye contact

Simply place one hand on your child’s shoulder. Don’t squeeze, just leave it there until he makes eye contact. NOTE: if your child does not respond well to touch or is easily startled, you may opt to place your hand in front of him on the table or the floor, depending on what would work best.

You simply want to get his attention. Sometimes kids are so engrossed in what they are doing that shifting attention can be hard. For more on this, read: 3 Reasons Why Children Don’t Listen to Their Parents.

Step 4: Deliver your instruction but 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. 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.

Step 5: Don’t tag on “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. It’s best not to give him the illusion that you are.

You may choose to explain why you are asking him to do something (“We have to go pick up your sister” or “Grandma will be here soon”), but you are not looking for his approval regarding the instruction.

If this is hard for you, try practicing giving directives in the mirror or with your spouse until you can end your instruction with a period instead of a question mark.

If it sounds like this process is somewhat slow, you are right. It is supposed to be. These simple, sequential steps will set the stage for the delivery of your message and increase the likelihood that your child will respond quickly.

Test it out and see if it works for you!

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for treatment from a qualified mental health professional. Cornerstones for Parents is not liable for any advice, tips, techniques, and recommendations the reader chooses to implement.

About Laura

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

Laura is a licensed therapist who offers parent counseling services to families in Connecticut. She loves to equip and encourage parents of kids of all ages. CfP is the place she combines some of her favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring teens.

3 Comments

  • 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.

      Blessings,
      ~Laura

  • 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.

    Linda

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