4 No-Nonsense Ways To Get Your Kids To Listen Better

Before their tantrums inspire your own meltdown, follow these steps.

Mother getting down on her children's level to speak not them Colin + Meg | Unsplash

Getting your kids to listen is one of the hardest parts of parenting. From the time little ones can walk, they prize their independence.

But when "I can do it myself" takes an ugly turn into meltdowns, crackups, and even blatant defiance ... what's a frustrated parent to do? Fortunately, there are options!

Here are 4 no-nonsense ways to get your kids to listen better.

1. Parent with consistency

Posting house rules in an obvious place, like the fridge, is only part of the job. You have to enforce the rules ... consistently.  You don’t have to make the rules complicated. Even better, invite your kids to contribute to the list. 


You can even make your rule list fun. Preschoolers may want a sticker chart, and grade schoolers may prefer to draw the chart. Eventually, for teens, the chart can even look like a workplace performance review — with a vision, mission, and goals.

Just ensure that you consistently track the rules and resulting rewards. What works and what doesn’t? Change the list together according to your findings. Give your kids general directions and guidance to succeed, but don't micro-manage. Do away with the speeches and the judgment. Kids respond to simple statements and consistent rewards and consequences.


So, remember to reward or praise them for their efforts. "Punishment doesn’t teach your child what’s expected and how you want her to behave," says parenting coach Pat Harvey LCSW-C.

RELATED: How A Dad Goes From 'Best Friend' To Estranged Parent With Just Five Words

2. Show your kids a little empathy

Kids make mistakes. Kids make poor choices as part of the process of learning to make better choices. Treat your children like human beings. Just because they handled their emotions poorly doesn't mean their emotions weren't valid.  

Say your daughter hits her brother over the head with a (thank God!) empty water bottle. Avoid judgment. Find out both sides of the issue and acknowledge both children’s feelings. If you determine one child started the feud, find a way to discipline and empower him or her to act more positively next time. I use the word "and" a lot with my kids, as in: "I know Johnny took away your favorite fire truck and broke its ladder, and we do not hit people even when we’re angry."


Then empower both the combatants to say how they’d handle the situation next time. If we, as the parents (and role models for appropriate behavior) start yelling when tempers are already high, we just reinforce the idea that lashing out is an acceptable response. This never leads to a peaceful resolution. Leading with peace breeds peace.



3. Coach your kids through the process 

According to parenting coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus, "The coach approach helps parents learn to champion their kids in a positive, empowering way. The focus is primarily on learning and improvement, rather than correction and re-direction." 

Practice active listening and stay in the moment with your child. Stop your chores and put your phone down for five minutes each day to find out how your children are doing. You may even repeat what they say to ensure you understand, then help your kids find their solutions by asking questions instead of lecturing. Let them try a few solutions to figure out what works. Coach them through figuring out how to solve problems themselves versus just blindly "doing as they're told."


When the solution feels like their own idea, they're more likely to stick with it. 

RELATED: Harvard Psychologist Says This Nasty Habit All Parents Hate Is Actually A Sign Of Intelligence

4. Keep your cool

Notice I didn’t tell you to stay calm. Instead, try to remain neutral, like a curious scientist. Of course, it feels frustrating when your kids don't listen. But contain your anger and upset by keeping things in perspective. They're learning. Following through on new behaviors takes practice.  And if you do lose it in a restaurant when your son shouts "Bad Mommy!" at the top of his lungs because you won’t get him chicken nuggets for the third time in a week, be kind to yourself. 

"Let’s start thinking of ourselves as human beings first, with great potential for growth and change," say Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, authors of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. "The process of living or working with children is demanding and exhausting. It requires heart, intelligence, and stamina. When we don’t live up to our expectations — and we won’t always — let’s be as kind to ourselves as we are to our youngsters."


So let your kids see that you're human, too.

The best advice I ever received came from a fellow mom on a day she was ready to snap: "I told the kids I was putting myself in a time-out. Then I shut myself in my room and calmed down. When I came out 10 minutes later, they were playing peacefully and were good as gold the rest of the day." I’ve used that parenting tip for years myself now.  

Children model what they see

So, if you want your children to listen consistently, you must parent consistently. They treat others with empathy when they feel treated with empathy. When we regulate our own emotions (especially the frustrating ones) healthily and take care of ourselves, our children learn to do the same.

If we use magic words like "please," "thank you," and "I’m sorry," they will eventually follow our lead.


And, in the end, when they grow up, you may receive the Cool Mom award like I just did on my last birthday, and you can throw that "bad mommy" memory away.

RELATED: Kids Become Happy Adults When Parents Repeat These 13 Phrases

Kathryn Brown Ramsperger wrote for National Geographic and Kiplinger before working as a humanitarian journalist in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. She's also an intuitive creativity coach and creator of Step Into Your Story! (TM), as well as the award-winning author of two novels, including her latest A Thousand Flying Things.