5 Reasons Your Child Doesn't Listen the First Time You Speak

The way you give instructions determines how likely it is your child will listen the first time you speak.
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Getting kids to listen the first time you speak can feel like an uphill battle. Whether your child insists he didn't hear you the first three times you told him to turn off his video game or you she argues every time you tell her to get ready for bed, repeating yourself can be frustrating. 

While it’s normal—and healthy—for kids to assert their independence once in a while, they need to learn how to follow directions.

One way to improve your child's compliance is by thinking about the way you give instructions. If you get into the habit of doing any of these five things, you might be accidentally training your child not to listen. Make sure you don't make any of these common mistakes when you give your children directions.

1.  You Give Too Many Warnings

Counting to three over and over again, asking, “How many times do I have to tell you?” or saying, “This is really your last warning,” won’t be effective. If you give too many warnings, your child will learn to call your bluff.

In fact, giving repeat warnings trains your child not to listen the first time you speak. Why jump right up and do what you say if you’re going to repeat it at least five more times?

If you repeat yourself, your child will start to tune you out. Give your directions once. If he doesn't listen, follow through with a warning and be ready to give him a consequence if he doesn't take action. 

2. You Make Meaningless Threats

Threats like, “You’ll never be allowed to go outside again if you don’t clean your room right now!” or, “I’m throwing away all your toys if you don’t pick them up!” aren’t likely to work.

You might mean then when you say them out of sheer frustration. Your child, however, is likely to recognize you aren’t going to be able to follow through with outrageous punishments.

Exaggerated threats aren’t the only problem. Sometimes, parents make threats that sound inviting. Saying, “I’ll turn this car around right now if you don’t stop arguing!” may sound more like a reward, rather than a punishment.

3. You Engage in Power Struggles

It can be easy to get sucked into an argument with your child without really noticing it’s happening. But the longer you engage in the, “Yes you are!” and “No I’m not!” battle, the longer your child can avoid following through with your instructions.

If you tell your child to clean his room, and he argues about it for 20 minutes, that’s 20 minutes he just delayed doing what you asked. Don’t get distracted by a power struggle. Instead, be prepared to follow through with a consequence if your child chooses not to comply.

4. You Don’t Follow Through with Consequences

Negative consequences teach your child to make better choices in the future. But if you struggle to follow through with consequences consistently, your child won’t learn.

Threatening to take away privileges without actually doing it, giving in when your child begs for privileges back, or giving consequences that don’t really bother your child won’t be effective. Follow through with logical consequences that will serve as a life lesson.

5. You Raise Your Voice

When a child doesn’t listen, many parents are tempted to raise their voices. But yelling isn’t likely to lead to positive results. Your child will learn to tune you out.

Additionally, research shows yelling can be just as harmful as spanking. It will damage your relationship with your child, which will decrease the chances your child will listen to you in the future.

A Word from Verywell

If you're struggling to get your child to listen, consider how you might give your directions differently.

It's important to prepare your kids for the real-world. Her future boss isn't likely to remind her 10 times that she should finish a report or fill out a time sheet. Instead, she'd likely face consequences if she wasn't doing what was expected of her.

Make it a priority to get your child to listen the first you speak. It will save both of you a lot of time and frustration when you're child knows you mean business. 

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