Some days, I feel like I’m talking to the wall. I’ve got really sweet kids who seem to have a genuine interest in doing what is right. They’re still kids, though, and all three of them have trouble listening on a daily basis. Repeating myself is exhausting, and it’s easy to find myself angry or even hurt when I can’t get their attention. I still don’t completely understand why their thoughts scatter just as we’re trying to safely cross a parking lot or get out the door for the day, but knowing it’s actually normal has helped me keep my frustration at bay. Yep, sorry to tell you, mamas, but when your kids have trouble listening or even push back against direction, that isn’t just typical—it’s developmentally appropriate. Selective hearing is a huge part of growing up.
Here’s Exactly Why Your Kid Doesn’t Listen
First things first, we’ve got to be honest about how humans tend to behave. All humans, no matter their age, have a tendency to retaliate when they’re being pushed to behave or think a certain way. This often shows up in kids: They resist if they’re not on board with the directions they’re being given. And, as much as we parents might find ourselves wishing our kids would just grow up already, children mature and develop at their own pace. For instance, until a child turns 3, it is totally normal to only be able to follow two-step directions. It isn’t until a child is between 4 and 5 years old that they are able to understand directions that include multiple steps. Although it is usually true that having a hard time listening is all a part of being a kid, there are a few signs that something bigger is going on that you may want to address. Parents of kids who don’t meet their developmental milestones—specifically those who have more extreme listening and comprehension difficulties—might want them to be evaluated for an auditory processing disorder.
Five Ways You Might Be Making It Worse
Mistake #1: Saying Too Much
Kids, especially younger kids, need clear and concise directions. Saying too much might overwhelm them or confuse them, so keep it short and sweet when you are trying to get your point across.
Mistake #2: Expecting Too Much
Remember those milestones we touched on above? Expecting your child to handle more than what’s developmentally appropriate only creates frustration for the parent and the child. Keep your expectations realistic, stick with small tasks, and help your little one listen with reminders if needed.
Mistake #3: Expecting Obedience, Not Cooperation
We all want our kids to obey, but blind obedience isn’t the ultimate goal. We want to raise kids who can think for themselves. Instead of asking your kid to “just do as I say,” offer explanations when possible and provide them with intentionally selected choices so they can maintain their sense of independence.
Mistake #4: Getting Emotional
When kids get amped up, they simply can’t think straight. It helps when parents can stay calm, so take a break if you feel your anger running away with you. In his book, No Drama Discipline, Dan Siegel, MD, suggests using connection (like physical affection) to help kids calm down before offering further instructions.
Mistake #5: Ignoring Distractions
It’s hard to focus when you’re distracted! Keep this in mind when talking to your kids. Help them focus by adjusting their environment or even taking them to a quiet location before you try to talk with them about something important. Remember these principles and slowly begin to weave them into your everyday life as a parent. When things don’t go well, you might get frustrated. But no parent is perfect, and that’s okay! Just be sure to model humility by apologizing before you start fresh.