Menu
why kids don't listen

As a parent, there are few things more frustrating than being ignored by your child. There is something infuriating about asking your child to do something simple and having them either ignore you or flat out refuse.

Whatever challenges you're facing with getting your kids to listen, understanding the reason behind their (lack of) response can go a long way toward helping you respond effectively. Be sure to protect your relationship with your child while you work through this challenge and do what you need to do to encourage them to listen before you get annoyed.

Here are eight possible reasons your child isn't listening, and positive parenting strategies to help you get through it:

Reason 1: Because they don't hear you

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one. Our children get so engrossed in what they're doing—drawing a detailed treasure map or building an elaborate Lego creation—that they literally may not hear us.

This is especially true if you call out a request in passing, while you're doing something else. They may just interpret this as background noise.

Positive parenting strategy: Wait for their attention

Get down on your child's level, make eye contact and then make your request. Whether or not they comply, you will at least be sure that your child heard you.

Reason 2: Because they don't want to

This reason is the classic example of "maybe if I pretend this isn't happening, the problem will go away." Sometimes, often really, our children simply don't want to do what we ask. Not because they're being defiant or spiteful or trying to use up our very last ounce of patience, but simply because they have conflicting desires. They may ignore our instructions that it's time to leave the park simply because they want to keep playing, for example.

Positive parenting strategy: Acknowledge their feelings

Let them know that you empathize with their feelings. Try saying, "I know you're disappointed that we have to leave when you're having so much fun, that's a hard feeling."

Simply letting them know that you see that something is important to them goes a long way in soliciting their cooperation.

Reason 3: Because they don't understand

We often give children long explanations for what we want them to do, but it's easy to forget that their brain works differently than ours. Especially for young children, this can be too much for them to process. It may seem like they're ignoring us simply because they don't understand what we've asked.

Positive parenting strategy: Use fewer words

When asking a young child to do something, use as few words as possible. "Find your shoes" is much more effective than "Please go find your shoes so that we can get in the car and get to school on time."

4. Reason: Because they're asserting their will

This is perhaps one of the most infuriating reasons, but it is natural and healthy nonetheless. Young children need to assert their will, to demonstrate that they are their own little people, and unfortunately this sometimes means saying "no" just to say "no."

Positive parenting strategy: Offer a choice

Offering simple choices gives your child a feeling of control and lets them know that you see them as capable of making decisions.

Let your child choose between a bath or a shower instead of directing them to get in the tub. Offer them the blue or the green toothbrush instead of telling them to brush their teeth. This small change in language can make all the difference in encouraging a young child to cooperate.

Reason 5: Because they're busy

Whatever our child is doing at the moment may not look important to us, but it is certainly important to them. If we ask them to come eat lunch or start their homework when they're working on the last pieces of a puzzle, it is every bit as annoying to them as someone interrupting us when we're drafting an important email or editing a document.

Positive parenting strategy: Wait, or give a time warning

If it's at all possible, wait until your child is done with whatever they're doing to make a request. Of course if they're in the early stages of a 500 piece puzzle, this won't be possible.

In this case, give a time warning. Try going over to your child, putting a hand on their shoulder and saying something like, "I know you're working hard on your puzzle, but in 10 minutes, we'll need to leave for the grocery store."

Reason 6: Because they're tired

As you've probably noticed, children's ability to listen decreases in the evening hours. Their still-developing impulse control is weaker when they're tired and they may not be capable of following directions at this time of day. The challenging part of course is that you're also tired in the evenings, so it's hard not to lose patience.

Positive parenting strategy: Adjust expectations

Expect that your child may need a little extra help in the evening. While you may be able to simply send them off to brush their teeth in the morning, they may need help with this same task at night.

Reason 7: Because they don't know the rules

It's easy to forget that children don't always know basic rules like how to behave in a museum. They also don't know the plans we have in our mind if we don't tell them.

If they have a totally different idea in their mind for how the day will go, they will inevitably struggle when you ask them to do something that doesn't align with their own plan.

Positive parenting strategy: Prepare them

Set expectations ahead of time. If you're going to the library, remind your child to use a quiet voice and walk before you go in. If you're going to the park, let them know you will be leaving after they eat lunch at the picnic table.

Your child may still forget or protest, but if they know what to expect, they will be more likely to comply. Also, don't make it a power struggle, which essentially forces your child to refuse what you're asking them to do in their mind.

Instead of trying to force their hand, try simply stating the facts. Say something like, "if you put away your blocks now, we'll have time to read two bedtime stories." Then walk away or look busy straightening up the house. If your child is strong-willed, they will be much more likely to comply if you're not staring them down.

Reason 8: Because they need connection

When children do what we ask them to, they are essentially putting aside their own will and desires to please us. They want to please us. They have a much harder time doing this though if they don't feel connected, and they need us to reestablish this connection regularly.

Positive parenting strategy: Connect

The number one way to get children to listen is to make sure they feel connected to you before you ask them to do something. If they've had a long day at school, they may need some extra snuggles before you ask them to go through the bedtime routine.

You might also like:

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.

Boom.

I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

Keep reading Show less
Life

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

Keep reading Show less
News