How To Get Your Child To Listen

Do you remember hearing the older generation referring to children as being seen but not heard? I do! I remember it well. I also remember my parents saying things like: “Do as I say, not as I do” and “One day when you are older, I’ll tell you”.

I could never understand it. It never sat well with me. But I didn’t question it. None of us did.

I listened. And for the most part, I did what I was told!

I was not alone. I was no different to any of my friends. We were all in the same boat. We obeyed and complied for fear of the punishment that might follow if we didn’t.

We all beat to the same drum. The same “fear” drum my parents beat to when they were young and the one their parents beat to as well. The same script. The same prescription. Dr Shefali Tsabary describes it as the Kool-Aid. They all drank the Kool-Aid and didn’t question it.

It was the way of it. It was just how things were.

Wind the clock forward and fortunately, for the main part, this generation of parents at least recognizes the utter ridiculousness of this model (why have children if they are not to be heard?!!) and would like to believe that with how we are parenting now, our children feel heard.

But do they?

It all depends on how finely tuned our own listening skills are.

Let me explain.

Why do so many kids struggle to listen?

3 reasons why kids don’t listen:

  1. Despite knowing that the Kool-Aid is not the right drink (but a step in the right direction for sure), it is only natural that when the going gets tough, we default to the deeply engrained, inherited scripts and parenting patterns, the way we were raised and despite intending to make our kids feel heard we are still not giving our children enough of an opportunity to feel heard.
  2. Mums today have so much more on their plates that we are pulled in a million different directions which distracts us from being able to be fully present with our children. We might think we are present but the sad reality is, for the most part, we are not. Add to this, many mums are running two jobs, one as a full-time mum, the other one a paying job of some sort. And with the invention of the smart phone, we are “on-call” almost around the clock. This simply leads to us having so much on the go that we just tune out.
  3. The reality is that most people are not actually that good at listening; we prefer to be the ones talking! Many of us have not yet acquired the skill to listen deeply and our children copy us…

This leads me to my next question:

In the absence of fear, how do kids learn to listen?

They learn by copying; they learn to listen by listening to their parents listen!

Here’s the reality that comes with this: and it’s sometimes hard for us to hear (I say us, because I’ve been in this boat – but I got out of it and I can help you get out of it too):

Children who do not listen are learning and acquiring this “skill” from somewhere. Monkey see, monkey do. They are most likely copying and learning from their parents.

When I was little, I listened because I feared for what might happen if I didn’t. Without fear as the driving force to listen, and as my children got older, I realized I was not actually a particularly good listener and my children were the same.

I knew that if I wanted my children to be good listeners I had to learn to be a better listener myself.

I was working with a parent last year who called me because she was struggling with the fact that her kids didn’t listen to her. This is such a common struggle. It’s one many parents face with their kids today and probably the number 2 reason for parents calling me:

How do I Get My Child To Listen?

When the time was right I asked her this question:

Why do you think your children don’t listen to you?

She did not come up with the usual answers: my child is disrespectful; my child is always on their device; only hears what they want to hear; listens to me when I raise my voice.

(Notice the pattern to these answers? For the most part, they point to the child).

This brave, vulnerable and courageous mum said this: 

My kids don’t listen to me because I don’t listen to them. The only time they listen is when I shout or raise my voice.


She knew that she was so frequently caught up in the doing that is life as a mum and was so busy and distracted from the present moment (in thought or action), she rarely listened to her children. And, she only really heard them when they shouted at her:

mum……. Mum……….. MUM…… M.U.M……

You know how it goes? We have all been there!

In an exact mirrored behaviour, her kids had learned to only listen to her when she raised her voice. For the rest of the time, just like her, they tuned out.

This mum never felt like she was heard and her children felt the same way. They were caught in a downward spiral.

She needed help.

Together we worked on this and, just like I had, she found that when she learned to really listen, her kids started to listen as well.

I’m guessing that if you have a kid who doesn’t listen to you that you might also struggle with the fact your little person, or maybe not so little, also interrupts you? If so, take a look at this post, it will help you a lot and ties in nicely with this. It’s called: How To Stop Your Kids From Interrupting You.

We co-create the reality that IS and as such, as the adult, if we want to change things, we have to be the ones to lead and guide our children towards new ways.

The only way in which I could get my kids to listen was for me to actually start listening to them. Monkey see, monkey do.

Accepting this and being prepared to our own part in having created the patterns and dynamics that exist in our homes, is a powerful place to start. The brave mum that I mentioned above accepted and understood that this is where change could happen.

We cannot expect our children to just miraculously know how to listen. We have to be the role models. We have to shape our behaviour into that which we would like our children to adopt and take on for themselves.

In a nutshell, this is how to get your child to listen:

  2. When your child needs your undivided attention – SILENCE YOUR PHONE and focus on them
  3. Focus on ONE THING AT A TIME
  4. When you want your child to listen to you GET CLOSE TO THEM and ask them what you need to ask them or tell them what they need to hear
  5. When you are listening to them, REALLY LISTEN
  6. As you will begin to see, as you start to listen to them, they will start to listen to you!

My children are my greatest mirror and still remind me of when I am not listening to them. They know. They are my greatest teachers.

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