How to Get Your Child to Listen the First Time You Ask

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Tired of yelling to get your child to listen to you? Here are two crucial tips that you must learn to help your kid listen to you the first time you ask them to do something.


Do you feel like you are talking to the wall when you are asking your child to do something?

That’s certainly how I feel when I speak to my 5 years old these days. My husband and I even had a discussion on whether my son needs a hearing test because he acts like he is deaf when I am talking to him. It is certainly frustrating to repeat yourself over and over again.

Then more often than not, I make the classic disciplining mistake of yelling at my kid to get him to listen. Of course, that usually results in more yelling, screaming, and crying. Wouldn’t it be nice to get your child to listen to you the first time you ask?

It’s common to have children that don’t seem to listen, even in dangerous situations.  How many of us catch ourselves repeating the same directive to our kids 2, 3, 5, 8 times before they actually follow through or seem to listen to us?  Not only is this extremely frustrating to us as parents, but it can be dangerous!

What if your child is going to run into the street as a car is approaching?  When you say “stop” to them, you need them to STOP the FIRST time you say it!  The second time might be too late!

Today, I’m going to give you some simple tips you can begin applying TODAY.  These simple tips seem obvious, but I can’t begin to tell you how many parents struggle with managing them effectively:

  • Warnings
  • Parental Follow-Through

With that said, let’s take a look, and you can be the judge if your parenting skills could use a little “brushing up.”


Most parents want to give their child the opportunity to correct their behavior before having to discipline their child.  There is no issue with this.  The problem arises when parents give their child multiple warnings before administering discipline. This is the problem with warnings.

A “warning” is when you inform your child that if they don’t change their current behavior, a specific consequence will ensue.  The problem with “warnings” is that parents fall into the trap of giving multiple warnings, or warnings that are not attached to a specific behavior.

As a rule of thumb, you should only give your child ONE warning, and that warning should be very specific.  Let’s look at some examples:

Example # 1:  Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house.  Mommy says, “Kelly, stop doing that.”  Kelly continues.  Mommy raises her voice, “Kelly, I said stop that!”  Kelly keeps going.  Mommy raises her voice more, stating, “Kelly, stop it or you’re going to get in trouble!”  Kelly keeps going.  Mommy, now frustrated, takes the ball away, “I told you to stop!  Why don’t you listen to me?!?!”

Example # 2: Kelly is throwing a ball around in the house.  Mommy says, “Kelly, stop throwing the ball in the house or I will take the ball away.”  Kelly keeps going.  Mommy takes the ball from Kelly, saying, “Because you were throwing the ball around in the house and you didn’t follow my directions when I asked you to stop throwing the ball, I’m taking the ball away.”

Example # 1 is a classic picture of what a lot of parents will experience.  In this example, Mom gives Kelly 3 warnings before enacting the discipline.  Her third warning is also very vague regarding what the consequence will be.

Parents who tend to give multiple warnings will typically have kids who don’t listen the first time a directive is given.  Children are very smart; they are biologically wired to learn patterns of behaviors from their caregivers.  As such, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out how many warnings their parents will give before they have to take their parents seriously.

I mentioned that, in Example #1, the warnings were too vague.  They fail to tell Kelly what behavior she is supposed to stop.

Kids are great at looking for loopholes in our household rules.  I’ve had kids in therapy that will say things like, “I thought you wanted me to stop jumping.  I didn’t know that you wanted me to stop throwing the ball.”  To prevent this, being specific in your warnings is helpful in increasing the likelihood that your child will listen to your directions.

Example # 2, by contrast, shows Mom giving only 1 warning.  The warning is also very specific about what behavior the mom is looking for and what the consequence will be.

A child who grows up knowing that he only gets 1 warning is much more likely to listen to his parent the first time the directive is given.  The child knows that he won’t get a second chance at it.  This example also shows the parental follow through, which is a very important part of effective discipline.  This leads us to our next point….

Related: How to Discipline Your Strong-Willed Child

Parental Follow Through

Have you ever told your child something to the effect of, “If you don’t stop XYZ, then we’re going home?”  Or maybe, “If you don’t start listening to me, I’m taking your (fill in the blank) away for the rest of the week?”  Maybe you’ve never said these things, but you probably know someone who has.  These statements aren’t necessarily bad.  They are just prone to poor follow-through from parents.

Let’s face it, if you paid $200+ for your family to go to Disneyland, or just finished ordering your meal at a restaurant (but haven’t eaten yet), are you really going to leave because your child is acting up?  Probably not….  Same thing for taking away objects that you rely on to keep your child settled in different environments.

Parental follow through means that when you give your child a warning and list a specific consequence, you need to be ready to actually do what you just said you would do!  This is one of the biggest traps parents I work with get into.  They threaten consequences that they can’t actually follow through with.

This same principle applies to rewards too!  If you tell your child that a certain behavior will elicit a specific reward, then you need to actually follow through with that too!  Failure to follow through renders your words meaningless and frequently leads to kids who don’t listen when their parents are trying to discipline them.

I also want to note that everything I just mentioned here can be accomplished without yelling to your children.  Once your child begins to understand that they only get ONE warning, they will start to follow directions more promptly.  The outcome will be in you feeling less stressed and less likely to result to yelling.

It’s All About You

I hope you enjoyed these 2 tips to help your kids listen the first time you ask them to do something. Remember, try your best to issue only 1 warning that also tells your kids what they can expect as a consequence if they fail to listen.  Don’t forget to be specific and be sure your consequence is something you are willing to actually follow though with.  Finally, be sure to follow through!  If you don’t follow through, your kids will never learn to listen.  This is probably one of the most important parts, so don’t forget it.

Do you have any other tactics to get your child to listen to you?

Tired of yelling to get your child to listen to you? Here are two crucial tips that you must learn to help your kid listen to you the first time you ask them to do something.

3 thoughts on “How to Get Your Child to Listen the First Time You Ask”

    1. Hi Nicole! I am working on two posts on consequences, but I don’t have them yet. That said I do have some detailed explanation and examples on consequences in my email sequence. I will email them over to you – you don’t have to join my list. I will also ask K.C. to see if she has any insights!

    2. Hi Nicole,

      Great question! Public situations are really tricky to navigate, and the answer partially depends on how old your child is and what kind of behavior we’re talking about. Assuming we are dealing with fairly typical behaviors, I love using “Natural & Logical Consequences.” This means that you use a consequence that relates to the situation at hand.

      For example: You tell your child they have to wear their bike helmet and they refuse. The natural & logical consequence is that they won’t be allowed to ride their bike.

      So, depending on what the situation is with the boat, the consequence might be not being allowed to swim in the lake or not getting to fish (if you are fishing on the lake), etc.

      I know that this isn’t greatly detailed. If you provide me a little more context, I can give you a better answer. If you would prefer to email me directly with the situation so that the information is more private, you are welcome to email me too at [email protected]. I am happy to help! 🙂

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