20 Ways to Get Your Kids’ Attention When They’re Not Listening

woman holding two kids

Kids not listening? As parents, we all know the struggle that it is to just simply get the kids to listen! Whether it’s barking orders across the house, or calmly trying to communicate your point, sometimes we just can’t win.

We asked you, our For Every Mom community, for your input on the best ways to get through to your child when they don’t listen, and boy did you guys deliver!

1. Count

Counting was the one tactic that got the most attention with the expert moms across our For Every Mom community. Some of you swear by it, and some of you have never found any luck with it.

“When she was little I counted to 10…not only to give her time to turn things around, but also to help her learn to count. As she has gotten older I’ve shortened it to 5…then started counting backward from 5. I also have the mantra ‘slow down, focus and obey’ To get her to think before she acts.”

2. Give them a heads up

“I think giving kids a fair warning ahead of time before you expect them to do something. Like, on playdates, ‘We are going to leave in 15 minutes’ helps them prepare, instead of just springing, “It’s time to leave!” on them in the moment.”

There’s tends to be a struggle if you don’t give them a heads up, so this method can make things easier on everyone.

Sometimes I’ll preface my point with, “I’m going to say something really important so I need you to look at me and focus.”

3. Communicate the consequence of kids not listening upfront

“I’ll ask my 3-year-old, ‘Do you want to sit on the chair for a while?’” By communicating the consequences of kids not listening upfront, you essentially give them two choices to make.

“We try not to use food or exercise as a punishment or reward. BUT, doing something physical WITH them when they are stressed, hyper, sad, or angry can be the key to quality listening time between the two of you.”

4. Ensure you have their attention, first

“Say their name and pause, wait until you get their attention, then follow through right away (even if that means physically helping them).”

5. Have them repeat what you told them

“We have learned to have our kids repeat back what we told them. This helps with their communication and our stress level too, especially when big emotions are involved.”

6. Start by removing the distraction

“If I ask my kids first to turn off the TV, tablet, computer, etc., I’m able to ensure that I have their attention before I start communicating my thought. If I ask them to do something WHILE they’re watching TV or playing on their tablet, they’re far less likely to listen to what I have to say.”

Remove the distraction first, so that you’re not competing with what already has their attention.

7. Communicate their body language to them

“Something I say often is, ‘Your actions are telling me that __(fill in the blank)___.’ So if they are not listening, you might say, ‘Your actions are telling me that you’d like to sit down and take a break (or sit in time out, go to your room, etc.) before playing outside (playing video games, or whatever they would rather be doing).’

Another example might be, ‘Your actions are telling me that you’re too tired to (do the fun xyz) today. If you can show me that you’re ready to be a good listener, we can still do xyz.’”

8. Positive reinforcement goes a long way

“I always try to get my son to look into my eyes, and then I speak succinctly and to the point so I don’t lose what little focus he has. We’ve learned that hewants to behave well because we let him know how proud it makes us, and we use that to remind him that behaving well makes our hearts happy and proud. When he is not listening, we remind him of that, which helps him remember his motivation to behave.”

9. Limit the opportunity for further distraction by limiting their choices

“My daughter will fight with me every day and take 20 years to pick out an outfit. So before she even goes to her closet I pull out two outfits and lay them out and give her a choice. I do the same thing with snacks and games and anything they want to do. They have the power to choose, but not the opportunity to choose from too many things.”

10. Get on their level

“Getting down on their level and making eye contact while speaking calmly always works. I’ll say, ‘Mommy listens when you speak so I will need you to do the same for me.’”

11. Affirm your child, don’t tear them down

We all need words of affirmation, kids included.

“We choose to celebrate [our son] when he does listen. Nothing extravagant. We just say ‘Thank you for listening. You’re doing so good.’ He loves words of affirmation.”

12. Know your child’s love language and use it accordingly

It’s important to know and understand your child’s love language, to know the best ways they will receive you.

“For example, my one daughter is a physical touch kind of girl. So if I really need her to listen to me, I know I can scoop her up into a cuddle or a hug and communicate to her where she feels the most loved. My son needs quality time to feel the most loved. So I know that if I get him one on one, I’ll have a better shot of him listening to the things I have to communicate.”

13. Don’t get angry

I know, it’s easier said than done, mamas. But yelling won’t make your kids’ ears work any better. If anything, it elevates the situation to an unhealthy level and teaches kids that screaming is the answer to getting your way. It’s only a matter of time before that approach backfires on you.

“Keep your cool and approach kids with a firm, but respectful tone.”

14. Eye contact is key

It’s impossible—even for adults—to fully listen if your attention isn’t fully on the person you’re listening to. That’s why eye contact is key. It’s a body language that tells the person speaking that you’re listening and vice versa.

“I have a 6 and 2-year-old, and with my first, we worked on making sure she responds verbally and with eye contact so we knew we were speaking to each other and expecting an outcome.”

15. Use the “First… and then…” method

“I use the ‘first & then’ method. An example would be if they want to watch TV but need to clean their room. We always word it as “Let’s clean our room first and then we will watch TV. Something about it works wonders for my kiddos.”

16. Find a quiet space

“I loved an article I read one time that explained when kiddos are throwing tantrums, or not listening, it isn’t because they want to be out of control, it’s just that they are experiencing a lot of emotions they don’t know what to do with. So even now with my little one, when he is really upset, I hold him close, play soft calming music, and when we can, I sit with him in his room with the lights dimmed to remove some of the sensory overload, and give him a chance to process his emotions.”

“I have found that as mine have gotten older, car rides are the best for hashing out things we need to discuss and that way we’re not looking eye to eye necessarily but I have a captive audience and they seem more at ease to share their heart and what’s on in their mind. It’s also a great place to pray with them.”

17. Whisper

“They usually didn’t listen if I talked, repeated myself or yelled. But if I whispered….always worked.”

18. Let them be heard

“I try to listen. I think a lot of times we as parents are doing most of the talking trying to get our children to listen to us when we aren’t doing the listening that we should try to do.

Children have a lot on their minds, as do we. They are learning, and it is our job to teach them. I find that too often, trying to get my children to listen to me when I am speaking fails, but when I start to listen to them, things go much more smoothly.

I do a handful of things like getting on their level, trying to have eye contact and staying calm as well as many other things to try to get them to listen to me but taking a moment to listen to them and finding out what is on their little hearts and minds is important.

It helps to see from their perspective allowing me to come up with little ways to explain things easier for them to understand about the particular situation and in the end, we both got to listen to each other.”

19. Use a soft touch to communicate

Rather than yelling or getting frustrated, use a soft touch to redirect their focus.

“Touch them on the shoulder and you’ll immediately have their attention. Works on adults too!”

“I remember having an issue with the kids always interrupting when we were talking to others, so one tactic we used A LOT— which has even spilled over to today sometimes — is if they have something to tell you, they put their hand on your hip or side but don’t say a word. Then you put your hand over theirs, letting them know you know they want to speak. Then when you find a pause in the adult conversation you can then turn to them to talk.”

20. Start Young

“From the time our kids could communicate to us what ‘they’ wanted. We guided them towards what it was we wanted them to do. I would take them by the hand, as I talked about what I wanted them to hear. Crying and fussing happened on occasion, but I still kept them focused on my talk. I believe because I started this early, I had very little trouble getting them to listen as they got older. This way of training them to listen to us, taught them to respect our authority as their parents, as well as the authority of other adults we had watching over them.”

The biggest thing we heard from you expert moms is that it’s all trial and error when your kids are not listening. Every child is different, which means every child is going to listen and respond differently. If you struggle with your kids not listening, sister, know that you are NOT alone. The privilege of raising humans is a gloriously heavy one, and you are doing just fine. Turn to God, and seek wisdom in knowing exactly what your child needs. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5)

This article was originally published on For Every Mom.