How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling - Promise
How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling

How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling

How many times have we told our children to do something (put on their boots, come down for dinner, put away the phone) and they just don’t do it. Frustrating?  You bet. As parents, we sometimes escalate the situation by yelling. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to get louder when we give commands that are ignored.

Kids of every age will test limits. When you tell them to do something (or stop doing something) they often won’t comply with the first command.  They want to see what you’ll do next. Their goal is to get what they want – to keep doing something they like, to avoid something they don’t.  Try these techniques to get kids to listen without yelling, keeping in mind the child’s age and developmental level.

Get on Their Level

Go to their space and get on their level.  It’s probably not effective to yell from the kitchen,  “Get down here for breakfast!” Better to enter the child’s room, sit next to them, and say, “Please come down for breakfast now.”  The more effectively you give your command, the better the follow through is likely to be.  Don’t ask the child to come to breakfast. Make it a polite command, delivered directly to the child in a controlled tone of voice, rather than screamed from another room.

Stay Positive

Use positive statements when you give directions.  Let’s say your child is running around the pool deck. Rather than yell, “Stop running!” from 50 feet away, get close to the child and say, “Please walk” in an I-mean-business voice. If your kid is whining while you’re trying to get dinner ready, say,  “Here – please draw me a picture while I cook” and put the materials in front of him.   

One Thing at a Time

Give one command at a time.  The morning blast-off to school and work is often a scramble. Help get your child out the door with step-by-step commands, such as: 

  • Please get your shoes.
  • Grab your lunch – it’s on the counter.
  • Please get your backpack.

It’s important to keep commands short and specific.

Make it Meaningful

Speaking of specific … if you say, “Be careful!” what are you really telling a child to do? Instead, give meaningful commands, such as, “Please stay away from the curling iron, it’s hot and it could burn your fingers.”

Pre-Empt the “Why”

Kids will often challenge parents with “Why?” when asked to do something.  It’s a stalling tactic. Try to pre-empt the why question,  “Please put on your coat so we can go pick up the pizza.”

Request Rather Than Command

Consider what you’re asking of the child; is it a necessary command or more like a favor?  If it’s the latter, pose it as a question,  “Would you mind getting my sweater for me?”  Make it a request rather than a command if it’s not something the child must do.

Show Gratitude

Be sure to compliment and encourage children when they do follow your commands. “Thank you for getting your backpack ready, it was a big help!”  Even the most compliant child is going to blow you off sometimes, but showing positivity and gratitude towards your kids will make them more likely to listen to you.

Follow Through With Consequences

If your children don’t listen the first time they’re told to do something, you may want to give them another chance, with a warning.  “You have one more chance to clean up your toys. If you don’t, you get a time out.” If, after a reasonable amount of time depending on the child’s age, they fail to comply, you must follow through. Otherwise kids will learn that you issue idle threats. It’s important to be consistent with the consequences you’ve outlined. When kids experience consequences, they know you mean what you say and they’ll be more likely to comply next time.

When to Seek Help

If you and your child are at loggerheads despite clear directions, patience and consequences, if the child’s behavior is defiant beyond what you’d expect, or if you just don’t feel successful in your approach, it’s wise to seek help.  Explain to your child, “We seem to be having trouble getting on the same page of how to follow rules, so I found someone to help us.” Remember that all kids have difficult behaviors, and that no one to whom you turn for help thinks your child is bad or that you’re a bad parent. Everyone needs help now and then.

Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

About Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD

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Meghan Tuohy Walls, PsyD, is a psychologist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and Nemours duPont Pediatrics, Jessup St. in Wilmington, Del.