How to Get Your Kids to Listen the First Time

Oct 5, 2020 | Babies, Blog, Kids, Raising Kids, Toddlers

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When our girls were little we decided we wanted to intentionally teach them to listen to us when we talked to them.

The biggest reason that we wanted them to learn to listen was safety.

Parents can often see things that children can’t such as a car coming down the road, someone getting too close to the edge of a drop-off, or a child reaching for something hot are just a couple of examples.

Teaching your children to stop when I tell them to can help them avoid serious injury and even death in some situations.

We also felt that it was a matter of respect as well as a common courtesy to look at someone when they are speaking to you and to respond appropriately.

Does this mean that our kids listen perfectly every time we ask them to do something? Nope.

There are plenty of reminders that we have to give them, and I’m guessing it will be a work in progress for quite some time…

But by continuing to hone this skill, our girls do listen the first time we ask them to do something… most of the time.

So in this post, I’m going to show you the 11 steps we use for teaching our girls to listen.

If you are currently frustrated with your children because they ignore you when you talk to them and you have to repeat yourself multiple times before they will obey, then stick around! This is for you!

1) Play a Game

If this is the first time that you are teaching your children to listen to you, set the stage with a fun game.

We taught our girls to listen by playing a game like “Simon Says.” It is a great way to make it fun and give the kids a chance to practice listening in a low-stress situation.

If your children aren’t used to listening to you at home when you’re having fun, they won’t be able to do it out in public. So be sure to get started on the right foot!

The rules to the game are simple, Ross and I will give the girls little things to do and they are supposed to do it while responding appropriately.

(I know, this doesn’t sound like a crazy fun game, but the girls get really into it and have a really fun time!)

So for example we like our girls to say “coming, Mommy” or “coming, Daddy” when we call them. it helps us know that they heard us and that they are indeed coming.

So we will send them down the hall and have them wait until we call them (usually between 1-5 seconds). Then we call them and they come running while saying “coming, Mommy” or “coming, Daddy.”

We will add in other little fun things too like telling them to try to catch daddy, do a somersault, crawl across the floor, etc. And we coach and remind them to say “ok, Mommy” or “yes, Daddy” each time they do something.

We started playing this when they were between 12-18 months old and our oldest still has fun doing it at 5 years old.

The girls call this our “practicing game” and will actually request that we play it! We try to play it frequently to keep them in the habit of listening.

For older kids, you might need to give them really creative things to do or give them more complex instructions before they get into it.

You could also try doing something like a treasure hunt where they have to follow the directions exactly to get the next clue.

No matter what game you choose to play, pick something where everyone is working toward the same goal. You want the kids to think positively about doing what the parents are asking.

2) Stop, Look and Listen

Next, we moved on to phase 2 or learning to listen.

We then taught them (again in a low-stress, low-pressure situation at home) that when we say their name, we expect them to stop what they are doing, look at us, and listen to what we tell them.

Once they understood what was expected, we would add this into our practicing game.

We would say their name and have them look at our eyes.

Once they got good at this, we would make it challenging for them to look into our eyes and they had to figure out how to get us to look at them (which they would generally do by putting their hands on our face and making us look at them, lol).

Think of how a toddler typically acts when you want them to look at you, but reverse it. Make it so you are the one who isn’t looking at them and they are the ones really wanting to find your eyes.

I often remind the girls when we are going out by asking them, “what should you do when Mommy says your name?” and they will respond with “stop, look, and listen!”

3) Get Down on their Level

When you are giving your kids instructions or telling them something, it is always most effective if you can get down on their level.

It is easier to make sure they are paying attention, it is easier to have a conversational tone of voice, and you aren’t towering over them.

We especially try to do this when we are giving them instructions.

4) Maintain Eye Contact

This one was challenging for both of our girls at first, especially if I had more than one thing that I needed to tell them.

What I found to be helpful thought was to point at my own nose and say “look at me until I’m done talking.”

When they were super tiny I had a really hard time not laughing at this point because they would get as close to my nose as they could and it was hilarious, especially if I was trying to be serious!

But it didn’t take long for them to understand what I wanted from them.

5) Don’t Yell

If you don’t want to have to yell at your kids for them to listen to you, then don’t yell!

If you typically will resort to yelling because they didn’t listen the first five times you told them, they are learning to listen only when you yell. Basically, you are training them to ignore you until you get exasperated.

So instead of yelling, tell them what you want from them in a low, firm voice. Think conversational volume, but with a tone that says you are serious about what you are saying to them.

If you feel like you need to yell, that probably means they didn’t listen the first time and they should be getting a consequence (see #8!)

6) Ask Them What You Said

We’ve all been there. Someone is talking to us about something, but our brain is busy figuring out how many tacos we think we can eat at supper tonight.

To make sure that your kids heard what you said and will be able to do it, ask them to repeat what you said when you are done.

If they didn’t get the message, explain everything again!

Trust me, it’s easier than sending them off to do a task that no one understood and getting frustrated when they do it wrong.

7) Only Say Things Once

Ok, I know I just said to repeat yourself if your kid didn’t hear what you said, but once you are both on the same page, don’t repeat it over and over again.

The reason that so many kids don’t listen the first time is that their parents will continue repeating themselves until the parents get frustrated.

Once the parent is frustrated, the child might start listening… or if they are given a consequence, the child is pretty upset because they didn’t understand why they could ignore the first 17 times, but not the 18th.

If you get into the habit of only saying something once, it is a lot less confusing for the kids and the parents.

8) Have Age-Appropriate Consequences

When you ask your child to do something and they don’t do it, give them a consequence.

I try to have the consequence match the disobedience if I can.

For example, if my younger daughter wants to sit in a big-girl chair (aka, without her booster seat) then I tell her she can as long as she stays on her bum or on her knees. I also let her know that if she doesn’t stay on her bum or knees, then she will go back into the booster chair.

As soon as she stands up in the chair, the booster is immediately put on her chair.

And generally, she isn’t too upset about it because she understood the terms of getting to sit in a big girl chair.

A similar thing happens with the park for us. When I say it’s time to go, the girls as supposed to tell me “thank you for taking us to the park” and leave without a fit. If anyone does have a fit, then we don’t get to come back to the park tomorrow.

It’s only taken once for each of them before they realized it is much more fun to not throw a fit when it’s time to leave.

9) Follow Through

When your child ignores you or disobeys, be sure to follow through with whatever consequence you told them they would get.

If you don’t, then they will never learn to listen the first time.

They have to know that they need to listen the first time if they want to avoid a consequence.

Failing to follow through will only be confusing for the child because they will never be quite sure when they should listen.

But, giving the child a consequence when they don’t listen immediately will drive the point home that they are supposed to listen the first time and you won’t be giving them multiple chances to obey.

10) Keep Setting Expectations

Even once your kids have mastered the art of listening, don’t take it for granted.

Keep practicing and setting expectations when you are out and about.

When we go anywhere, before we leave the car I turn around and let the girls know what I expect of them in the situation that we are going into. And I let them know what the consequences will be if they don’t behave.

I’ve found my girls do much better when they understand clearly what they need to do and what the consequences will be before we are in a situation where I need them to listen… and we all have a better time when that happens!

11) Set-up a reward system

If you’ve ever watched the show SuperNanny, you know that Jo (the nanny) is a big fan of consequences for bad behavior, but she is also a proponent of rewards for good behavior.

My absolute favorite idea that I’ve seen from this show is getting a flower pot for each of the children (this was a family of three girls). She then gave the parents 10 fake flowers for each child.

She told the girls that each time Mommy and Daddy caught them doing good things and listening really well without being asked, Mommy and Daddy would give them a flower.

When they got to 10 flowers, Mommy and Daddy would give them a reward.

I loved this idea and I know my girls would love it too, so I am planning to implement this next time I go to a craft store.

On second thought… maybe I’ll take them to a paint-your-own-pottery place and let them paint a pot. I’m not one for visiting craft stores unless I have to!

What about you?

Do you have any fun ways to get your kids to listen the first time? Let me know in the comments below!

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