How Can I Get My Kid To Listen & Do What He’s Told Without A Constant Battle Of Wills?

helping kids control emotions

Many of us struggle when our child does not take “good advice” or barely turns to look at us when we speak. You know that part of the problem getting out the door or completing chores and other tasks is that your child does not listen. But when you suggest this is something she needs to work on- she ignores you, or the discussion ends in a melt down. And asking for simple things like putting shoes away so grandma does not trip seems to devolve into a battle.

Social Emotional Learning

If you are struggling to get your child to listen, it may be because of something you hadn’t thought of.

Is It Stubbornness or Something Else?

Many parents feel that their child is purposely not listening to them. Are they are getting a payoff for being stubborn or selfish? This is a very common thought, albeit, a possible misconception. Sure, your child may occasionally be stubborn or selfish, but more often, it is the result of a lack of skills. Research shows that it is brain-based “executive function” skills that hold him back—not willfulness or laziness.

Executive Function Lag


If you want to get your kid to listen, you may need to consider her skills.  Executive function is the brain’s hub of skills such as memory, organization, planning, self-regulation and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others. When these skills lag, advice about pushing through, trying harder and just making it happen do not apply. In fact, such blaming and shaming only make matters worse.

How to Interpret Your Child’s Behavior

The idea that a child “would if he could” is an important distinction. In this lens of looking at your child’s behavior, you can remind yourself that his skills are not strong enough to curb the impulse.  Once your child begins to develop the executive function skills necessary—whether it’s a small step in getting homework done or managing big emotions—his successes will motivate him to do more. Rather than assume your child isn’t trying, or isn’t trying hard enough, look for the small wins.

Consider What Really Listening Looks Like

Listening means showing interest in the other person’s feelings and opinions, being curious and offering a shoulder to relieve their suffering. Neutralize the conversation by using reflective listening. This simply means recapping what they said and translating it back to ensure th message was delivered correctly. This works in person and virtually.

Modeling Goes a Long Way

As you speak with your family, make eye contact and check your body language and facial expressions.  Schedule your activities around family dinners.  When you interact with your child, try to avoid interrupting or simply be listening for your chance to jump in to speak your opinion.

Reflective Listening

Identify what your child if feeling by using reflective listening. Inquire how they would rather handle directions and the things you need them to do? Collaborate. There may be a voice in your head that says you never needed this kind of communication, but being more collaborative can help lower all the tensions in the house. Also consider what are your expectations around “doing what he is told?” Would it be ok if he set a time to take out the garbage? This is not easy but having a more neutral conversation, talking about the problem and asking for her perspective can help everyone communicate better.

Practice Listening as a Family

Share with the whole family that you feel like all of your listening skills have gotten rusty. As a game, bring out a timer and ask each family member – don’t single one child out – to listen for one hour. Encourage everyone to look each other in the eye when they talk, and model the same behavior.  Keep it fun , incentivize it with a small prize or privilege do everyone keeps practicing.

Work Together

Acknowledge that your child has areas in which he needs skill development. Support him in managing his emotions by helping him pause and read the room, transition slowly between activities and create routines. Collaborate on strategies you both think will help. Until they learn to do more on their own, they will continue to need you not just for academics but for social emotional learning too.

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

Deeper Dive:

Learn more about Social Skills Development

Watch video on building Social Skills 

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