I was out of the room for only a second to grab his pajamas. As I closed his dresser drawer, I could hear him in the kitchen shouting, “I GOT IT.” Building great listening skills feels like summiting Everest some days. How to make kids listen is a struggle for all parents at some point.
When I walked back into the kitchen, there was my boy stark naked standing on the counter holding a glass of juice.
“LOOKIE ME. I DID ALL MYSELF!”
I totally appreciate his zest for independence, but in the moment, it was frustrating. There’s juice everywhere, my other kid is stepping in it, he’s standing on the counter, and we weren’t making much progress in our bedtime routine.
The frustration of the day builds and yelling feels like the only thing that will get your kids to listen. But what I’ve found is that yelling drains and exhausts me more than if I skip it completely and do the exact opposite, which is not saying much at all. Here’s how.
How to get kids to listen without yelling.
Did you know that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature? We know this from several studies led Dr. Mehrabian back in the 1960s and 1970s. The messages you send to your child rely on how you respond without using words.
All this is awesome news because you just landed about nine brand new parenting moves in your back pocket to get kids to listen without yelling.
1. Thumbs up, thumbs down.
A thumbs up or thumbs down is handy when distance or noise makes it hard to talk. You might give your child a smile and a ‘thumbs up’ when he sits nice at the dinner table. If you see him standing on the table, you might shake your head or give a ‘thumbs down’.
2. Let your arms do the talking.
Give a pat on the couch cushion when you want your child to come to you and sit down. Point to the toys you want your child to pick up. Or give the good ‘ole Robert DeNiro “I’m watching you Focker” by pointing to fingers toward your eyes and then pointing them back to your child. This is my personal fave; my kids know I mean business.
3. Get low.
Communication becomes incredibly effective when both people are on the same level. Squat down to the ground before gesturing or instructing. When kids are constantly looking up to listen to an adult, they tend to think more about their stiff neck rather than what you are saying.
4. Head positioning.
Think of a time when a friend was telling you a story and you were hanging on every word. Did your head ever cock to the side? Tilting the head sideways is a great way to show your child you are interested in what they are doing and saying, making them more inclined to cooperate and gain great listening skills.
5. Show your teeth.
Smiling and raising your eyebrows helps children feel happy and safe. When you smile, you communicate to your kids that you love them. You communicate, “I see what you are doing makes you happy.” Smiles work even better when you are looking into your child’s eyes. Then follow up with the behavior you want your child to do instead.
6. Mirror the behavior.
Performing the behavior you want your child to perform is key to building great listening skills. For example, getting down on the floor, focusing on the mess and the toys that need picking up, can help get your child started.
7. Inch closer.
It is difficult to ignore someone when they are incredibly close to you. While adults prefer 2.5 – 4 feet of personal space proximity to close friends and family. Kids have much lower proxemics (aka personal space) and can benefit from parents and other trusted adults speaking relatively close in proximity (1-2 feet).
Teaching great listening skills starts with listening as a parent. When your child speaks to you and says things like…
“Mom, I didn’t do it.”
“He hit me.”
Or the infamous, “No!”
Go ahead and nod and smile and bust out a few “Mmm…hmmms.” This shows your child that you are actively listening. Your kids feel heard. They feel noticed. They feel validated. And when kids feel all those things, they begin listening to our words and guidance.
9. Check your posture.
Are your arms crossed? Are your hands on your hips? Are you waiving your finger and shaking your head?
Try to connect, then correct.
I stepped over the puddle of juice on the floor and moved in closer to my naked boy on the counter. Our faces were inches apart.
Gesturing for him to get down off the counter, I gave him “the look” and gently guided him towards the direction of the pajamas.
I’m saving my energy to curl up with a book and stay awake more than three pages after the kids are fast asleep. Or at least try.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 20,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!