Why Won’t My Child Listen to Me?

Written By

Jess VanderWier
January 31, 2022

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Do you struggle to get your kids to listen to you? Do you find yourself using punishment or yelling to discipline your children when they don’t do what you ask?

When you’ve asked your child to do something “one million times!!!” it can be SO triggering. We are often feeling flustered at this point. We are on a schedule and need to get going, or we are just annoyed because our children don’t notice the thing we want them to do that WE value. This often leads us to yell or punish our children because we don’t know how to get them to obey us and do what we ask.

This makes sense. Obedience has been seen as the goal of child rearing for many years. These values and views are often deeply ingrained in our society and how we view our kids. 

Compliance vs. Listening

So often, when parents say their kids don’t listen, what they are really saying is their kids don’t comply. These are two very different things. 

Compliance means our children do what we say. 

Listening means our children hear what we say. 

It’s not a child’s job to comply with our every request.

Perspective Shift

Let’s shift our perspective on obedience. 

Old Perspective

Compliance is the goal of parenthood: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Your child’s obedience is a reflection of whether you are a good or bad parent. 

New Perspective

When kids question the adults in their lives, it helps them find their voice and learn the WHY behind the expectations. Your child’s behaviour is not your report card, and obedience is not the goal. Raising reflective and assertive children is powerful. This new perspective encourages children to get curious and ask questions about our demands. If we expect instant compliance in our children, we are not setting them up for success in the real world. 

Raising Children Willing to Ask Questions

By raising children who are willing to ask questions, we are helping them:

  • Find their own confidence.
  • Protect themselves against abuse.
  • Understand why we set certain rules and expectations.
  • Find their assertive voice.

It can feel frustrating when children don’t do what we ask. Still, it’s important to remember that although our demands come from a place of unconditional love and safety, there are people in the world who may try to demand things from our children that aren’t loving and safe. 

By raising our children to be confident and ask questions when demands are placed on them, we are setting them up for success in the future when they run into people who might be trying to cause harm to them. This is why instant compliance and obedience shouldn’t be the goal of parenting. Instead, we should focus on raising our children to be confident and assertive. We can help them understand why we set certain rules and expectations for them and teach them that it’s okay to be curious and ask questions when we don’t want to do something that is demanded of us.

Help Hids Understand the WHY Behind Our Demands

My daughter saw some children’s Advil I had set aside for my youngest baby the other day. She’s teething, and I thought she might need it in the middle of the night. My daughter thought it might be a yummy snack for herself, and before I knew it, she was about to consume it! 

“Stop! I can’t let you have that.”

She put it down, but I found her with it again a few minutes later. “I thought I said no….” I said to her. 

“But Mom, why is it okay for my sister to have it but not me?”

I was busy and out of my mouth came: “Because I said so!”

I watched as confusion spread across my 4.5-year-old’s face; she didn’t get it. I took a moment to compose myself, got on her level, and explained why it wasn’t ok for her to have the Advil. 

I want her to ask me questions. I want her to question authority. I’m a good authority figure asking her to do things, but maybe someday there will be a lousy boss or teacher, and I want her to know her questions matter. I want her to know that there’s a reason behind the demands or requests given to her. 

I find the longer we go on this journey and the more curiosity we allow, the more she’s likely to listen to what we have to say – because she knows there’s a reason. 

“But sometimes they just need to listen!”

I hear this every time I discuss compliance not being the goal of parenting. There will always be moments when you just need to get your child out the door to school or transition from playing to the dinner table. 

How to Handle Moments When You Need Obedience

Join your child’s world 

Taking as little as 30 seconds to join into your child’s world before placing a demand will help you gain their attention and interest and make it much more likely that they will genuinely listen to your request.

For example: If your child is playing, before you ask them to clean up their toys and get ready to go to school, get down on their level, and play with them for a minute. While you are playing, you could say: 

“This is so much fun! I love how you used the magnet tiles to make a garage for your cars. Let’s put the garage somewhere safe, so we can keep playing with them again when we get home from daycare this afternoon. Should it be put on the kitchen table or the coffee table?”

“It’s almost time for school. You can finish this race, and then we’re going to put the tablet away. I see you chose the red car for this round; what kind of car is that?”

Offer choice

If your child has a hard time listening and doesn’t want to do what you ask, offering them a choice can make it easier to avoid power struggles. 

“It’s almost time to get ready for school. Do you want me to set a timer for 2 or 3 more minutes?” 

“We have to clean your room before you can go to Sadie’s house. Would you like to sort the clothes in the closet or dust your shelves?”

Offering structured choices where both options will work can give children a sense of power and autonomy over the situation, and they will be more likely to comply with your demands. 

Give them notice

If there is a particular transition or activity that is challenging for your child, try to give them advance notice so they know what to expect. 

For example, if your child typically struggles to stop playing in the morning and get ready to leave for school, spend some time during breakfast to go over the plan for the morning. 

“Hey buddy, here’s the plan: we’re going to eat breakfast, then get dressed. Then you can play with your Pokemon cards again. When it’s almost time to go, I will set a 5-minute timer to let you know when it’s time to put the cards away and get your coat on.”

“When we get home, we are going to spend 15 minutes tidying the basement, and then you can play outside with Sam. Do you have any questions about the plan?”

Kids of all ages thrive when they know what to expect.

Remember: It’s ok for your child to get curious about your demands

When you find yourself frustrated and exhausted because your kids won’t do what you ask, remember that if we want to raise our children to be assertive and confident, we shouldn’t expect instant compliance and obedience in childhood.

Take the time to help your children understand “the why” behind your demands. Please encourage them to ask questions and get curious.

If you found this blog helpful and want to know even more, or if you need more in-depth support, our Parenting Little Kids course has over 35 video lessons and has helped thousands of parents tackle challenging behaviour, learn how to discipline effectively, and reparent themselves in the process. 

You deserve to enjoy parenting and be the best parent you can be! 

Explore Parenting Little Kids

Get simple parenting tools sent straight to your inbox.

    Article By

    Jess VanderWier
    Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.