How to Get Your Kids to Listen the First Time

Try these 7 steps to get your kids to listen without nagging or yelling

Carla is having one of those mornings. She has a staff meeting at 8:30 am and needs to drop off the kids at school on her way to the office. Her son, Jonah, is happily playing with his Legos while she makes breakfast.

"Jonah", she calls from the kitchen, "time to stop playing and come eat." No response from Jonah, even though she can see him sitting on the living room floor not far away. "Jonah, come have your breakfast, " she calls again. Jonah continues playing. "Jonah? Jonah!"

Now Carla is frustrated and her resolve to stay patient suddenly evaporates. She storms into the living room and stands over her son. "Jonah! What's wrong with you--I said come here right now!"

If this scene sounds familiar to you, you're in good company. 

Feeling ignored by your kids? 

To teach your kids to listen the first time, you must help them cultivate the habit of paying attention to what you say. Part of creating this habit is paying attention to how you talk to them.

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Fighting in Front of Your Kids: Conflict is part of relationships. Here's how to fight right.

[This post is excerpted from an article for which I was interviewed on, a children's health and wellness site for which I am an Advisory Board member].

Kids learn a lot from the way their parents fight.  Multiple studies have shown that young kids whose parents fight aggressively (physically or verbally) are at higher risk for depression, anxiety and behavior problems as they grow. 

But other research suggests that constructive disagreements—in which parents demonstrate affection and attempts to problem-solve—might actually make kids more empathetic and socially skilled than their peers.

To learn more about how exactly to role model healthy discord in front of the kids, we spoke with our advisory board member Erica Reischer, Ph.D, a psychologist and parenting coach. 

The trick, says Dr. Reischer, isn’t to hide your fights from your children, but demonstrate respectful disagreement and—even more important—eventual resolution. Here are some tips from Dr. Reischer to making that happen:

Question actions, not character. If you’re upset that your husband didn’t help out with the kids’ bath time like you’d asked, say that. There’s no need to throw words like “lazy” or “forgetful” into the mix. “Name calling, shaming, and hurting your partner’s feelings sends a particularly bad message to kids,” says Dr. Reischer.

Watch your tone even more than your volume. When we get agitated the volume and pitch of our voice often rises, says Dr. Reischer.  She’d rather parents focus less on lowering their voices and more on using respectful language and allowing others to speak. In other words: It’s worse to be quietly sarcastic than to loudly—but constructively—communicate your discontent.

Take a time-out if things get too heated. If you sense emotions are about to boil over, tell your spouse (and your kids, if they are present) that you need to take a grown-up time-out to yourself. This is better than taking it to another room, which just implies to kids that it’s okay to aggressively argue as long as it’s in private. “It’s good for kids to learn that they should take it upon themselves to go somewhere and cool off if need be,” Dr. Reischer says.

If you start a fight in front of the kids, make sure they see the kiss-and-make-up part, too. Even if you’ve shared words you wish you hadn’t, or one of you has stomped off in the middle of a fight, it’s still—if not even more—important to let them witness how you resolve the disagreement, says Dr. Reischer. Watching parents give some ground, see the other’s side, or even agree to disagree will not only make them kids feel better, it will also teach them the benefit of working together to solve difficult problems.

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This Simple Technique Can Help You Stay Calm When Kids are Pushing Your Buttons

As a clinical psychologist and parent coach, I’ve worked with thousands of moms and dads on a variety of parenting challenges.  One of the most common challenges is staying calm when kids are pushing our buttons, or anytime our reserves of patience are low.  Every parent struggles with this. 

Parents know they should stay calm and matter-of-fact, offer empathy, avoid arguing, and gently but firmly enforce household rules.  But this is easier said than done. 

In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to rein in our own emotions so that we can effectively deal with the situation at hand, whether it’s your toddler throwing his food off the table, or your teenager breaking her curfew. 

One technique I’ve used successfully with many clients is this simple visualization:  when you find yourself in a situation in which you need to keep your cool while patiently enforcing rules, pretend you are a concierge.   

Visualizations are helpful because they use the power of our imagination to rehearse a desired behavior.  They prime us to act in a way that follows what we have imagined.

When we picture a concierge, most of us imagine a friendly and helpful hotel employee who can muster great reserves of restraint and calm even in challenging situations.  

The image of a concierge embodies three critical ideas that can provide a useful model for parents.

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7 Simple Strategies to Avoid Power Struggles

Every parent has been there:  what starts as a simple request to your child (e.g., put on your shoes, get ready for bed, get your things so we can leave, start your homework, etc.) is met with resistance or simply ignored. 

Then you repeat yourself and start feeling frustrated, and from there the situation escalates into a full-blown power struggle.

What to do?  Here are 7 simple strategies for avoiding power struggles:

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Read Lots of Parenting Books but Still Feeling Stuck? Here's a 3-step recipe for change

[Note:  this post is from my blog on Psychology Today]

As a psychologist and parent coach, I work with many parents who are feeling stuck. This feeling takes many forms: stuck in a cycle of yelling (often following by guilt), stuck in a dynamic of whining or tantrums, stuck in a pattern of misunderstanding and emotional distancing.

Almost all of these parents are aware of their situation and have often read one or more parenting books with the goal of resolving the issue. These parents know what the issue is and they have sought out some guidance about how to address it. Despite this, they still feel stuck.

Why?  Often, the answer to why we continue to feel stuck lies in the difference between knowing and doing.  

The difference between knowing and doing is a critical one. While we generally cannot “do” without first knowing how, if we know but do not act on what we know, then change will not happen.  Continue reading on Psychology Today.


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Want to Avoid Power Struggles? Respect Their Reality

It sounds easy to respect your children’s reality—until it’s different from your own.  Respecting our children’s reality means letting them feel, think about, and experience things in a different way than we do;  the primary tool for doing this is empathy. 

Like over-functioning, disrespecting our children’s reality is something we are generally not aware of doing.  We have to pay attention to notice all the ways in which we unintentionally disregard or question their feelings and reality.

Here’s a scene I overheard the other day, which demonstrates a common example of how we inadvertently disrespect our children’s reality, which can lead to emotional distance and power struggles.  After the example, I'll "replay" the scene with an alternative response to show you how to put this parenting tip into action.

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Mindfulness Tips for Moms

[Note:  this post is from Happy Healthy Kids, a site about children's health and wellness for which I am an Advisory Board member].

We all know it feels good to have a little quiet time amidst the chaos of our work and parenting lives. But new research shows that taking a breather—quite literally—improves health and happiness.  Continue reading on


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