Obeying: Why Kids Don’t Listen The First Few Times.

As a Child Therapist, I often work with kids who tell me things like:  

If I beg my my dad enough – he’ll give it back to me.

If my dad says no, my mom will say yes.
We are teaching our children NOT to listen to us. Isn’t that scary?

Natasha Daniels
Photo by Pixabay on

It might be over the top in this case, however almost every parent I know has this issue. The question is simple: What drives kids away from doing what we instruct them to do immediately? The answer is simple from a child’s point of view. Here is a list of three reasons kids may not follow directions the first time — in addition to ideas and steps parents can take to respond to each reason.

1. Our priorities are different from their priorities.

A child could care less about how important you feel it is for them to brush their teeth. Often times, children are in the act of doing something they feel is far more important than doing what you are requesting them to do. You may think they are just playing with their toys but this is their work — in their eyes. You want them to be diligent and eager to learn and grow so this is actually a positive thing.

How to resolve this:

Start by paying attention to what your child is working on.  Let them know you care about what they think is important.

“This is such an awesome fort you are building!  Show me how you play in it.”

Next, warn them that their time is almost up because you have something else for them to do:

“It is homework time. Are you ready to start now, or in five more minutes? Alright, you’ve got a deal!  Be ready to start in five minutes!”

2. They are used to us screaming and promising punishment so they wait to react to our demands.

Kids are clever and know that by simply ignoring you for a while they can avoid what they are being told to do. This is completely normal and does not make your child a bad person.  Your child just knows that you mean business when you start fussing, so if you are talking calmly, you haven’t reached your serious level yet. 

How to resolve this:

Refrain from screaming across the room to tell her what you need her to do.  Get close to your child and talk about what she is doing. Then say:

“Jane…. excuse me but there is something I have to let you know.”

Wait for her to give you eye contact so she knows you are firm on what you are about to say.  Promise to turn off the T.V. or anything else that is a distraction and prohibiting her from responding to you right away. Tell her to repeat what you said back to you if she is stuck on whatever she is doing.  This time, remind her only once and keep the time period you agreed on.  You have to stick to it because if you don’t you are letting her know that it is ok not to take you seriously.

3. They require our assistance to help them change tasks.

Isn’t it difficult to break away from an important project you are working on to pick up a crying baby?  You may feel annoyed or frustrated and even tune it out. This is the same way kids feel when we try to pull them away from something they feel is important.

How to resolve this:

Warn her just once.  When the five minutes is up, get in tune with them again by talking about what they are playing with: “Oh my, that fort is so cool and dark inside! Give her a reminder of what you agreed upon:

“Ok, Joy, five minutes have passed.  Remember what we agreed on? Without crying, five more minutes.  Time to do homework.”

Now, help her transition from playing to what you are having her to do:

“How about we use the fort as a cape and you can be a super hero.  Let’s race to the desk to do homework!  Ready, set, go!”

Sum it all up

Your child is normal and growing up. Keep in mind that your priorities are different from hers so addressing both is good practice in an effort to connect with your child versus simply throwing demands at them the entire day. Last, remember that hour child is behaving the way he was trained to. Testing you until you reach your breaking point and start yelling has been his tactic used to buy more time for what he believes is important. This can be improved over time by implementing the above suggestions and sticking to your word as much as possible.

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Man Vs. Child by Doug Moe

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