Frustrating, isn’t it?

As a parent, you make so many sacrifices for your children. And you really want the best for them. But they just don’t listen to you.

Sometimes they don’t follow your instructions. Other times, they refuse to take your advice. Understandably, this makes you feel angry and helpless.

But take heart, because there are simple ways to get your children to listen to you. I’ve worked with thousands of children and teens, so I’ll share with you the 20 best tips I know.

1. Don’t make threats.

It’s tempting to threaten your children, especially when you’re at your wits’ end. Resist this urge, because making threats will damage your parent-child relationship in the long run. The threats will eventually lose their effectiveness too.

What’s the alternative? Read the rest of this article to find out.

2. Address your children by name.

Imagine if someone started barking orders at you without addressing you by name. Would you feel like obeying those orders? Probably not.

So if you start the conversation by calling your children by their name, they’ll feel respected. As such, they’ll be more likely to listen to what you have to say.

3. Get your children’s attention first.

Before you start giving instructions or suggestions, make sure you have your child’s full attention. If necessary, walk up to him and put your hand on his shoulder. Establish eye contact, and ensure that he has turned his focus toward you. Only then should you begin talking.

4. Make sure that your requests are reasonable.

Before you make your request, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the request really necessary?
- Is it a matter of preference or principle?
- How urgent is the request?
- Is now the best time to make the request?

As parents, we must pick our battles. By asking the questions listed above, you’ll ensure that the battles you pick are worth fighting.

5. State your expectations ahead of time.

For instance, if you’re going to attend a wedding dinner as a family, let your children know your expectations (in terms of their behaviour) ahead of time. Be as specific as possible.

In addition, state the consequences they’ll face if they choose not to behave according to those expectations.

6. Give your children choices and alternatives.

If you don’t give your children choices, they’ll perceive you as being authoritarian. Here are some types of alternatives you could give them:
- Do the task today or tomorrow
- Do the task every day for 10 minutes, or once a week for an hour
- Do the task using Method A, B, or C
- Do Task A this week or Task B next week

7. Brainstorm possible solutions with your children.

If your child doesn’t agree to any of the options you’ve provided, brainstorm other possible options. Get a sheet of paper and write down all the ideas that you and your child come up with. Take 10 to 15 minutes to do this.

Next, evaluate each of the ideas. Both of you get a chance to share your opinions on each of the options. This may take a while, but you’ll usually be able to find a solution that you and your child are agreeable to.

8. Share with your children how you feel.

In particular, the “When you … I feel …” approach is effective in getting through to children.

Here are some examples of how you might use this approach:
- “When you bully your classmates, I feel anxious because I want you to become a person of strong values and character.
- “When you refuse to study for your exams, I feel worried because I want you to make the most of your education and your talents.”
- “When you speak to your teachers disrepectfully, I feel discouraged because I feel like I haven’t taught you well as your parent.”

9. Give your children your full attention.

Point #3 was about making sure that you have your children’s attention before you speak.

This point is about giving your children your full attention whenever they speak to you. This means putting away your electronic devices, newspapers, or books. By doing this, your children will likely show you similar respect when you speak to them.

10. Phrase your requests “positively”.

Children respond better when the request is phrased “positively” rather than “negatively”. These are a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:

Example 1
Negative phrasing: “No shouting!”

Positive phrasing: “Please speak quietly when you’re indoors. You may shout when you’re outdoors.”

Example 2
Negative phrasing: “Stop watching TV!”

Positive phrasing: “Please turn off the TV and focus on your homework. During the school holidays you’ll have more time to watch TV.”

11. Give your children advance notice.

As an example, if your children are in the middle of a game, give them advance notice if their fun is going to be cut short. 

30 minutes before your family needs to leave the house, tell them they have 30 minutes remaining. Give them another warning 10 minutes before it’s time to go. This way, they’ll be mentally prepared and won’t kick up a fuss.

12. State your requests as simply as possible.

Children are more likely to listen when your requests are stated in a clear, direct, and simple manner.

Many parents make the mistake of repeating themselves to emphasise their point. But children often perceive this as nagging, and become less willing to listen. So use as few words as possible to get your point across, and use simple language too.

13. Try to understand things from your children’s perspective.

Think back to when you were your children’s age. Did you like it when your parents cut you off while you were speaking? Or when you were playing with your friends, did you like it when your parents interrupted you?

Take a few minutes to think about the situation from your child’s point of view. This will help you to understand why she’s behaving the way she is. It will also give you fresh ideas about how to connect with her.

14. Acknowledge what your children have to say.

Children love using the word “but”.
“But I’m busy now…”
“But that’s so unfair…”
“But my friends don’t have to do this…”
“But I can do the homework later…”

Sound familiar?

How do you respond to statements like these from your children? By clamping down, or by exercising your parental authority in some other way? 

I encourage you to first acknowledge what your children have said. You could say something like:
- “I can see that you’re in the middle of your game…”
- “I know this seems unfair to you…”
- “I understand that your friends don’t have to do this…”
- “I know it seems like your homework isn’t urgent…”

This will help your children to feel understood, which will make them more receptive to what you have to say.

15. Empathise with your children and identify their feelings.

As a follow-up to Points #13 and #14, identify your children’s feelings. Are they feeling frustrated, discouraged, disappointed, or betrayed? If you can’t identify their emotions, then do the next best thing: ask them.

By showing your children that you understand their feelings – or that you’re trying to understand their feelings – they’ll be more likely to listen to you.

16. Stay calm.

This is easier said than done, I know. But it’s vital that you stay calm, because nothing productive ever results from a shouting match. So once you notice yourself getting agitated, take three or four deep breaths. Breathe in for three seconds, and breathe out for three seconds.

If necessary, remove yourself from the situation for 10 to 15 minutes. Restart the conversation when you’ve calmed down.

17. Be gentle but firm.

Speak to your children gently but firmly. Your children should know that you, as the parent, are the authority figure. But they should also feel respected and understood. 

This is a fine balance that parents must strike, but it’s key if you want your children to listen to you willingly.

18. Be consistent and keep your word.

After you’ve set a rule, be consistent and follow through. If you don’t, your words will carry less weight in the future, and your children won’t take you seriously. On a related note, make good on all your promises. Whether it’s a promise you made to bring your children to the park, buy them a phone, or get them new clothes, keep your word.

I’ve spoken to children who don’t trust their parents because of broken promises in the past. And you can’t build a strong relationship without trust.

19. If necessary, end the discussion.

This approach should only be used as a last resort. If you’ve already tried all the other tips but still can’t reach an agreement, then close the discussion.

For example, your child might want to go for a sleepover, but for various reasons you’ve decided that it isn’t a good idea. You might end the discussion by saying, “I know you really want to go for this sleepover. But I’ve explained to you why I’m concerned about your safety and why I can’t allow you to go. I’m not changing my mind about this.”

20. Spend one-on-one time with your children.

At the heart of it, getting your children to listen to you is less about techniques and more about the parent-child relationship.

One of the best ways to build this relationship is to spend one-on-one time with your children. I’m not discounting the importance of family time, but one-on-one time is special. Some parents continue to do this, even though their children are already in their 20s. As you might expect, these parents typically have a wonderful relationship with each of their children.

When you have a healthy parent-child relationship, your child will listen to you readily.

The bottom line

Getting your children to listen to your requests, suggestions, or advice – it’s one of the biggest challenges for parents. But it doesn’t have to be a source of frustration or annoyance.

By using the 20 tips in this article, you’ll build a strong relationship with each of your children. Over time, your children will go from not listening to you, to listening to you willingly.

This change will take time, and will require commitment. But it’ll be worth it. I’m confident that you’re up to the challenge!

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