How to Talk so Kids will Listen

How to Talk so Kids will Listen

21 June 2022 • Words by Nanette Botha 3 mins

Children need guidance. Even if we create learning opportunities within a child’s interests and we focus on their strengths, they still need guidance. If a child has a hard time listening to a parent, it greatly influences their safety. It would be risky to take a child on a fun outing or spend time out of the house if a child is unable to follow instructions.

Every parent knows that no child will always listen to everything a parent says. And even if they hear, they might not follow the instruction that is given. We need to therefore find a way to ensure that our kids listen when it is important for them to do so.

Imagine for a moment that you are at work and your boss gives you a wide variety of commands, mentions every simple thing you need to do every moment of the day, comments on what you do, and then still asks questions in between. It wouldn’t be long before you are so used to them speaking to you all the time, that you will stop listening. When they speak, you already assume that it won’t be important, because surely when someone talks all day. Everything they say cannot be worth listening to. It is very similar with our children. Naturally, kids get many instructions on things they should do, things they shouldn’t do, and even things they may be allowed to do at times.

This can easily become overwhelming.

“Get your shoes.”

“Where is your other sock?”

“How was your day at school?”

“You need to eat your dinner.”

“Have you unpacked your schoolbag?”

“Don’t go into the road.”

“Hold my hand.”

“Pick up your toys.”

“This is a nice picture.”

“Which story should we read?”

“Don’t touch the oven.”

Not everything we say to our kids is important, but how do we let them know when it is necessary for them to listen? Joussemet, et al. (2018) writes that talking in a way that children will listen is part of “optimal parenting”.

These simple tips will help you talk in a way that will get your kids to listen:

Major on majors, and minor on minors

Instructions concerning your child’s safety and wellbeing (or the safety of others) are major. These are important and should not be overlooked or ignored. These types of instructions require a major focus and it is a serious matter to ensure that these things are adhered to. Other things, though, are minor and don’t have an impact on anyone’s safety. These require less attention and we shouldn’t spend too much time setting up rules or giving commands that concern them. If we pay attention to the majors first, we will be spending more time on what is really important for our kids to learn and the “unnecessary” details will follow later.

Be consistent

It is important to follow the first tip first by deciding what will be majors in your family. When you have determined that, and you give instructions regarding “major” things, you need to then be consistent with following through with the instruction. If we aren’t, we are sending the message that there will be no consequence when our children don’t listen. And remember that “majors” concern our children’s safety – we cannot afford not to be consistent with this.

Don’t yell across the room

Somehow the sound disappears before it reaches the kids’ ears! When you speak to your child, try to physically be at their level (bend down towards them), speak softly and slow down your speech. These strategies show our children that we are present. We are giving them our undivided attention and we care about them. While you are having a conversation with your child in this manner, ensure that you also stop and listen to what they have to say. 

No parent will get this right every single time – just like our kids won’t listen every single time. But when we do, it will have a wonderful effect on our children and ourselves and that makes it worth the effort.

Joussemet, M., Mageau, G. A., Larose, M. P., Briand, M., & Vitaro, F. (2018). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk: a randomized controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of the how-to parenting program on children’s mental health compared to a wait-list control group. BMC pediatrics, 18(1), 257.

Nanette Botha

Educational specialist & mother of 3 young children Co-founder: AIMS Global & Leadership at: Augmental