mom and Daughter togetherHow to Help Your Child Listen and Cooperate

I seem to have a rather snotty princess-like kid on my hands. Every time I ask her to do something she laughs at me, like she’s mocking me and letting me know she’s in charge—not me!

This mom may not be making use of a key strategy for getting your child to really hear you and respond to a request you’ve made. That strategy? Reduce the number of commands you give at once.

Children can only truly listen to one command, or one request, or one correction, at a time. If you want them to have any hope of responding to your request, keep your instructions simple.

Too Much, Too Fast

Life is busy and moving fast. Because of that, most parents like to rattle off a list of requests, chores, to-do’s, and corrections all at once so they can go back doing the adult things they have to do. But doing that is counterproductive.

Sending that much information to a child all at once, regardless of age, causes them to unconsciously put up the “I’m not listening barrier.” This barrier allows a child to tune you out to protect herself from the onslaught of energy, emotion and information coming her way.

Children do hear what you’re saying, but they can’t process several commands at once, certainly not as fast as you can.

When you rattle off several requests at once about 60% of what you say gets lost or forgotten, and that’s frustrating. You assume your child is purposefully ignoring you, and that makes you mad. So you lop on even more information by threatening her with what will happen if she doesn’t listen or do as you say. Now her mind is overwhelmed. When a child feels overwhelmed she resorts to using defense mechanisms to protect herself and shut you out. She age appropriately either ignores or laughs at you, or cries.

The truth is parents can’t expect a child who is still learning and using immature thinking to process several rapid-fire requests at once. This is just how a child processes information during early childhood.

So what can be done?

1. Give one comment at a time.

Remember the old adage that less is more! Making one request at a time actually creates a much greater chance that you’ll be heard and your requests will be acted on.

2. Be sure to connect when you make a request.

Don’t parent remotely; walk to where your child is. Look her in the eye, reach out with a loving touch to get her attention, and say the one thing you want to say. When your child does what you asked, or you resolve the fact that she didn’t do as you asked, then and only then move on to your next request.

3. Create routines.

Create a routine list for your family’s morning, afternoon and evening routines. Younger kids should help you create the list and choose a photo to represent the action so you can talk about the process. Your list…

…doesn’t cause the “I’m not listening barrier” to be raised.

…introduces a child to the concept of routines, which are used in school.

…can be reviewed again and again to see what to do next.

…creates the perfect natural consequence. For instance, if your child gets to watch a video after getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing teeth and she runs out of time, then there’s no video. This eliminates parental reminders and threats.

4. Use a calm, firm tone of voice.

Have you ever listened to your “correction” voice? You know the intense voice you use when correcting behavior? Think about what that sounds like to a child. If there is no blood or broken bones, is there really a need to use such an intense voice?

In order to get your child to hear you, think about the tones of voice you’re most likely to respond too — an intense angry voice or a calm firm voice? Your child is no different.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


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