How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen – 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful Tips

Trying to get our kids to listen can be so frustrating – but these tips to help you talk so your kids will listen can help! 

As a parent, how often do you wonder if your kids are actually listening to the words that are coming out of your mouth? 

We know the feeling of asking your 7-year-old to set the table over and over again, or wondering if all of a sudden your teen has contracted an incurable hearing deficit. 

We know what it’s like to watch your kids struggle with a friend situation, wishing that your child would come and talk to you about it – and then when they do, you feel like you’re not quite saying the right things.

The 9 tips you’ll find below will help you know how to talk so your kids will listen – and how to strengthen the parent-child bond in hugely significant ways. 

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Why Kids DON’T Listen

We’ll get into the specific tips to help you talk so your kids will listen soon, but first, it’s really important to address WHY your kids aren’t listening in the first place. 

Here are the three main reasons why your kids may not be listening to you:

They’re distracted

It’s common knowledge that kids are spending more time in front of a screen than ever before.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that kids ages 8-12 spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens. For teens, that estimate is as high as 9 hours! 

Getting your kids to listen to you when they’re in front of a screen isn’t going to happen easily.

Instead, make it a point to get your child’s full and undivided attention before asking them to do something. 

Related article: The Step-by-Step Guide to Having an Unforgettable Screen-Free Week

They’re exploring their limits 

As kids develop, they can go through periods when it is natural for them to explore their limits or try to exert more independence. 

Most commonly, kids go through several developmental stages where they’ll try to assert more independence:

  • toward the end of the toddler years (ages 2-3)
  • when they begin full-time school (around 5 years old)
  • as they enter their tween years (ages 10-11)
  • pretty much all of adolescence (ages 13+)

While these stages don’t give kids a free pass to stop listening to their parents, it can be helpful to know where they are in their development. 

In fact, during these stages is when you can really use the tips that are coming up soon! 

They don’t feel like you care

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” 

This famous quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt definitely holds true in our relationships with our kids! 

When our kids feel that they aren’t receiving love and care from their parents, they are less likely to want to listen to what we have to say.


Actionable Tips to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen

Here’s a quick look at the 9 strategies we’ll cover to help you start having more productive conversations with your kids – whether they’re 6 years old or 16 years old!

  1. Show your kids you want to listen to them
  2. Ask open-ended questions
  3. Rephrase what your child says
  4. Acknowledge effort, not personality traits
  5. Stop giving ultimatums without following through
  6. Stop adding the word OKAY
  7. Change IF to WHEN
  8. Turn NO statements to YES statements
  9. Use the Thank You-Please rule

The first four focus on helping you connect with your child in conversation, and the last five can help you speak in a way that can help improve behavior.

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Keep reading to learn more about each of these specific strategies!

1. Show them you want to listen to them

One of the biggest keys to helping your kids start listening better is for you to listen to them. 

According to Psychology Today, fifty-one percent of teenagers say that their parents are distracted by a screen when the teen is trying to have a conversation with them.

When your child comes to talk to you, make it a point to put your phone down and make eye contact with them. 

This applies to many other situations beyond screen use too: If you’re in the middle of making dinner or folding laundry, do your best to acknowledge your child’s bid for attention and put down what you’re doing if it’s possible. 

create time from your work

If it’s not possible to give your child the attention he or she wants, acknowledge that. 

You could say something like, “I’m sorry, Bobby. I want to hear what you have to say, but right now I need to focus on my work. I’ll be finished in 10 minutes and then we can talk.” 

And then, of course, be ready to listen in 10 minutes!

2. Ask open-ended questions

How common is this scenario?

You: “How was school today?”

Your child: “Fine.”

You: “Did you learn anything?”

Child: “Nope.” 

Sometimes the key to having better conversations with your kids lies in asking open-ended questions.

These questions often begin with the words, 

“How do you feel about …?” 

“What do you think about …?” 

And a great follow up question to keep them talking is:

“Why do you think you feel that way?” 

Letting your kids know that there is no right way to feel or think and that you’d like to hear their opinions can really open up conversations between you. 

Remember, when your child feels that you are listening to him or her, they’ll be much more likely to listen to you, too. 

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3. Rephrase what your child says

To really help your child know that you’re listening, it’s a great idea to repeat what they’re saying in your own words. 

Try to use phrases such as: 

“If I understand you correctly…” 

“What you’re saying is …” 

“What I’m hearing you say is …” 

“I think I understand, but tell me more so I can be sure.” 

Restating what your kids are saying shows them that you’ve really listened to them. 

And when kids feel that their parents are listening, they are often more willing to listen in return. 

connecting with your kid doesn't have to be complicated

4. Acknowledge their effort

When you speak with your child, it’s important to focus on praising their actions and effort instead of making blanket statements about their character.

For example, if a child hears, “You’re such a good boy” he or she will be less likely to talk to (or listen to! their parents when he feels that he hasn’t been a good boy.”

Related article: 150 Positive Affirmations for Kids You Can Use Right Now

According to Psychology Today, the best type of praise we can give our kids is based on their effort.

The best type of praise sounds like this:

“I can see that you really put a lot of effort into that art!”

“You gave it your all in that game!”

“You’re doing a great job focusing on math!”

When we praise our children, they are more attuned to listen to us because they know they’ll often hear messages that are meaningful to them.

5. Don’t give ultimatums they know you won’t carry through

Giving ultimatums that have no credibility undermines your effectiveness in communicating with your kids. 

Ineffective ultimatums often sound like this:

“If you don’t come right now, I’m leaving you behind.”

“If you don’t clean your room, I’ll throw away all of your toys.”

When your kids hear these empty threats, they quickly begin to tune them out.

For the situations when you need a strong phrase to let your kids know you mean business, try this:

“When you do/don’t do X, I’m going to need to come up with a BIG consequence.”

Or, for older kids:

“When you do/don’t do X, I’m going to need to take drastic measures.”

This gives you time to come up with a NATURAL consequence if your child does or doesn’t do the thing you’re asking them to do.

6. Avoid adding the word “OKAY?”

As parents, we often add the word “okay?” to the end of our sentences to try and soften our requests to our kids.

For example, we say:

“It’s time to set the table – okay?”

“You need to do your homework now – okay?”

“Go and clean your room now – okay?”

Adding the word “okay” changes our requests into questions – as if what we’re asking our kids to do is up for debate.

Instead of adding the word “okay” to your sentences, simply make your request and leave it as a statement. Period.

Related article: How to Get Your Toddler to Listen

Start by paying attention to how often you add the word “okay?” to the end of your sentences and work to omit it from your regular speech patterns.

7. Change IF to WHEN

Do you have a kid who likes to push boundaries or question the rules? 

Try this tip:

Stop using the word “IF” to begin your sentences.

For example:

“If you don’t do what I say, you’re gonna be in trouble.”

“If you throw your food across the room, you’re gonna clean it up.”

“If you come home late, you’re gonna be grounded.”

Using the word “IF” can sound like a challenge – especially to kids who like to push boundaries.

It’s like they want their parents to prove whether or not we’ll follow through with whatever the consequence is that we mentioned.

So, instead of “if,” try using the word “WHEN.”

“When you disobey, there will be a consequence.”

“When you throw food, you’ll be the one to clean it up.”

“When you come home late, you’ll be grounded for a week.”

Using the word “when” changes what we have to say into a statement that presents natural consequences – instead of issuing an ultimatum for our kids to test.

mom and toddler

This is a super subtle change – but it’s amazing what a difference one little word can make!

8. Turn NO statements to YES statements

It’s no secret that we often have to say “no” to our kids. 

We’re responsible for their health and safety for heaven’s sake. 

But, when our kids hear the words “yes,” they’re more likely to listen. 

So how do you start saying “yes” more often?

When your child asks a question, say yes and add a qualifier to make the circumstance work for you!

Here are a few examples: 

Son (before dinner): Can I have a cookie?

Parent: Yes, after your dinner.

Daughter (before doing homework): Can I have the iPad?

Parent: Yes, after your homework is done.

Toddler (while playing with cars): Can I play with my blocks?

Parent: Yes, after you clean up the cars.

For this technique to work, make sure you follow through and deliver the thing that they’ve been waiting for when you said you would.

The Yes + a Qualifier can take a few tries to sink in, but it can be a great strategy for helping your kids to start listening better.

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9. Use the Thank You-Please Rule

As moms, we know that a little appreciation can go a long way, right?

Showing appreciation to our kids can help them feel seen, which can then help them be more responsive when we speak to them.

Related article: 15 Awesome Printable Chore Charts for Kids

The Thank You-Please rule means that before you ask your child to do something, you thank them for something they’ve done.

For example:

“Thanks for putting away your shoes. Can you please hang up your backpack too?”

“Thank you for playing with your sister so nicely! Would you please clean up your room together?”

It’s important to note that showing gratitude to our kids shouldn’t always be attached to an ask. 

But the Thank You-Please rule can be a great tool in your repertoire of knowing how to talk so your kids will listen. 

Final thoughts about how to talk so your kids will listen

Learning and practicing a few simple techniques to communicate with your kids better can make a huge impact on how well your kids listen!

It’s a great idea to choose one or two ideas here and implement them over the next few weeks.

Then come back and try another one or two.

Remember, it does take time for behavior to change, but you can definitely learn how to talk so your child will listen better and your relationship will deepen!

Related articles about parenting and kids:

50 Fantastic Boredom Busters for Kids

The Step-by-Step Guide to Having an Unforgettable Screen-Free Week

7 Brilliant Ways to Give Individual Attention to Your Kids

Which of these tips for how to talk so your kids will listen is your favorite? 

Pin the image below to return to these helpful tips in the future!

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How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen - 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful TipsHow to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen - 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful TipsHow to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen - 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful TipsHow to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen - 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful TipsHow to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen - 9 Amazingly Simple and Helpful Tips

Jen Bradley, the founder of Jen Bradley|MOMs

Hi there! I’m so glad you’re here. I am a mom who believes that meaningful connections with our kids can happen in small and simple ways. Read More …


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