2 Simple Ways to Get Kids To Listen the First Time You Ask

Tired of asking a million times for you kid to do something? Here’s how to get kids to listen the first time without yelling or repeating.

Tired of asking a million times for you kid to do something? Here's how to get them to listen the first time without yelling.

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I’m far from the perfect parent.

You’ll see me counting down the seconds until 5pm where I’ll pour myself a glass of red wine to calm down.

I’m the one who asks my daughter 10 times to put away her stuff lining the stairs.

(OK, maybe 20 times and that stuff is still there)

In the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, the authors capture my parenting skills in a few sentences, “I was a wonderful parent before I had children.  I was an expert on why everyone else was having trouble with theirs.  Then I had three of my own.”


Even though I have a Masters in Education, I often feel drowning at home.

I don’t want to nag too much but when my son won’t stop singing the PJ Masks song and just do what I’m asking, I don’t know what else to do.

So, yes.  Even though I know what I should be doing, I don’t do it.

It’s like I have this discipline amnesia.

Maybe you feel the same way.  And you may chide yourself for each parenting mistake.

Don’t.  We’re not perfect parents.

That’s what makes us so fascinating!

If we were perfect, what good stories would we have to tell our friends?

At the same time, nagging puts such an emotional drain on us and our kids.

Here are two ways to get your kids to do something the first time you ask…and how I sometimes get them so, so wrong.

Hopefully, you can relate.

Not those choices

Notice the plural in the noun there.  Choices.  Not choice.

In education, we’re always told to give our students choices.  A choice has one very large distinction, though….

Is this a question the child can say no to?

If they can’t say no, it’s not a true choice.  It’s a demand being requested of them.

I messed this up the other night.

It was 7:30 and I had just convinced my son to take a bath (victory!).  My daughter stood in the family room, practicing spinning her pink hula hoop and watching an episode of Full House.

As I closed my book, I asked her, “When do you want to take your shower?”

She replied, “Before I go to bed.”

Now, I know how this works.  She gives me a non-commital answer, then I forget and suddenly she’s magically settled into bed and it’s too late for a shower.

Not this time.

I pressed her.

“So… after this episode of Full House?”

“Before I go to bed.”

“After this episode of Full House?”

I took away her choice.  I started the argument, her glares, and then her stomping up the stairs.

That was all me.

I could have prevented it by instead offering her two options that were equally acceptable to me.

My question would have been better received if I asked, “Do you want to come upstairs now and take your shower while your brother is in the bath or do you want to finish this episode of Full House before you take your shower?”

If I had given her two options that I found equally acceptable, I wouldn’t need to nag and she would have felt like her choice had been respected.

Connect Then Direct

Our kitchen was a mess.

Orange powdered cheese from my daughter’s Easy Mac littered the center counter.  Dishes snaked their way from the sink all the way to the stove.

That afternoon, I had enough of the mess and finally felt motivated to clean it up.

I wiped down the counter.

Asked my kids to unload the dishwasher.

Started washing dishes by hand.

Asked my kids to pick up the living room.

“After I’m done with my homework, mom”

or from my son, “No, I want an episode of Max & Ruby first.”

Why won’t these kids just help me clean the mess they created?  Do they think I’m the maid?

Whoa now, this is a dangerous path to go down.

Once I start thinking the maid thought that leads right into “I’m so underappreciated.” to “I’m not a good parent because my kids act so entitled”

It goes on and on and on..

Instead of starting this mad dialogue – all in my head – I can choose instead to stop what I’m doing, connect with my kid and then direct their action.

Parent’s magazine suggests, “Instead of competing for his attention, ask your child to stop playing for a minute, and get down to his level so you can look him in the eye. Say his name, make your request, ask if he understands, and get him to repeat it back to you.

I tried it.

In the middle of washing dishes and preparing to wash the floor, I stopped what I was doing and sat down next to my nine-year-old.

“So Cam…(me waiting until she stops her homework and looks at me) … can you pick up your stuff off the floor so I can wash it?”

“OK, right after I finish my homework.”

I can live with that.

And when she finished her homework, she did.

It was magic!

By giving actual choices and waiting until our kids give us their full attention before making a request, we have a much better chance of our kids doing something the first time we ask.

And not losing our minds in the process.


JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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