Search

Why My Kids Don’t Listen To Me? 16 Possible Causes

Reading time: 17 minutes
Written by
| Updated on
February 8, 2024
Reviewed by parenting expert
Kid doesn't listen to parents

What you’ll learn

Some parents and caregivers often assume that ”If my kids don't listen to me they are not well educated”. Because of this, they start experimenting with different strategies to get back in control. Usually, they end up being overwhelmed and frustrated about their children's lack of response.

In the attempt to discipline your child, it can sometimes get frustrating not being able to get your child to listen. Often, you wonder what attitudes to take so that your child respects the rules and starts listening to what you are saying. In this article, you will discover some of the reasons why child doesn’t listen and follow directions and some solutions on how to get kids to listen.

What exactly do parents refer to when saying “My kids don’t listen to me”?

Is the sentence ‘My kids don’t listen to me‘ familiar? Children can refuse to take verbal instructions into account for a number of reasons. First, we must see how parents use this affirmation. Are they talking about a child that doesn’t accept any guidance? The rebel child? Or are they talking about the situation in which a child doesn’t respond when spoken? The difference between the two cases of kids not listening to parents lies in how we perceive intentionality.

Children are actively dismissing directions

Child doesn’t listen or follow directions

These are the children that will bluntly share their opinions and engage in power-struggles with their parents. They openly refuse to take any instructions, and defiant becomes a set-in-stone feature of the parent-child relationship.

However, despite parents’ best efforts, kids don’t listen, and this attitude leaves them feeling frustrated and questioning their parenting abilities.Parent’s don’t see an exit out of this and they might start internalizing a feeling of guilt and failure.

Children are passively ignoring directions

The “yes-mommy” children, although seemingly cooperative, have a knack for tuning out their parents’ words. Kids don’t listen, and they have learned that a simple nod or agreement can effectively silence their parents. 

They may go the extra mile to fulfill certain requests. However, their results often fall short of expectations. Skillfully navigating between being responsive and selectively ignoring the information they receive, kids exploit this balance to their advantage. 

On the other hand, parents often find themselves overwhelmed, frequently lamenting, ‘My kids don’t listen to me‘. They often find themselves forced to repeat instructions and provide multiple reminders. With each instance, their confidence erodes, and they begin to doubt whether their children will ever act autonomously without constant input.

When Kids Don’t Listen – Children’s perspective

1. Feeling unheard

Children are always seeking their parents’ attention. Their ideas hold significance to them and deserve consideration. Listening to children forms a crucial part of effective communication with them.

So, every time parents are actively dismissing their opinions and labeling them as child-talk, the little ones might feel unheard and sad. This could lead to the child not listening and following directions.

Children are in an ongoing process of developing their own beliefs and interests. They feel the urge to make decisions about their lives and they want to share their discoveries with their parents. 

The attitude of “wait until you’re older” or “we’ll talk about this later” without the intention of following through, might also make children feel rejected.

The positive effects that come from letting children manifest their autonomy are proven by science and are linked to healthy child development. That is why it’s recommended that parents take the time to dive deeper into what their children are saying and support their interests. 

However, it’s also essential for parents to find effective strategies on how to get kids to listen. By establishing clear and consistent communication channels, setting appropriate boundaries, and providing positive reinforcement, parents can create an environment where their children are more inclined to actively listen and engage in meaningful conversations.

👉 Discover the power of positive communication with your child! Learn about the phrases you should avoid using altogether and how they can impact your child’s well-being. Dive into our article on “Things Parents Shouldn’t Say to Their Child” to gain valuable insights and practical tips for nurturing a healthy parent-child relationship.

2. Boredom or lack of engagement

Kids don’t listen when they are bored or not interested

It’s not uncommon for children to feel like their parents’ requests are boring or even unfair. It’s not uncommon for children to feel like their parents’ requests are boring or even unfair. Kids don’t listen, as they may perceive these tasks and requests as mundane or undeserving of their attention.

As parents, we often feel the need to keep our children busy with chores and family activities. We constantly give them new tasks or requests to keep them engaged with what’s happening in the household. However, it can be disheartening when our efforts are met with resistance or indifference. 

Nonetheless, in doing so, we may fail to recognize that our children may be busy or focused on something else that is important to them. Children take play and peer interactions very seriously, and it’s important for parents to acknowledge the value of these activities.

Whenever we constantly bombard our children with requests without taking the time to understand their interests and priorities, we may inadvertently create feelings of resentment or frustration. This is a common reason kids don’t listen to parents and will not do as they are told.

Hence, we might want to take the time to learn about our children’s interests and plans. This is how we can get a better understanding of their needs and priorities and tailor our requests and activities accordingly. Children are more likely to be cooperative and engaged this way.

3. Overstimulation

Children can get easily overstimulated by common daily activities. Peer interactions, screen time use, hectic schedules, school, homework and chores – all these can have a great impact on children’s ability to focus and cooperate when they’re asked to.

The lack of response after yelling instructions from another room might make us feel that our kids don’t listen to us. “I told you three times to come down for dinner!” can come as a surprise for children when they can honestly say that they didn’t hear you at all.

If they are watching their favorite cartoon or having a friend over, their full attention is there. Screens are known to be overstimulating, leaving children unaware of their surroundings. Additionally, another common scenario that parents may encounter is when their child doesn’t respond when spoken to.

Before jumping to conclusions about misbehavior and stating ‘my kids don’t listen to me,’ parents should ensure they employ the most effective strategies to capture their children’s attention.

It’s important to approach the situation with patience and understanding, considering factors like distractions, fatigue, or the child’s level of engagement in the current activity. By using effective communication techniques and finding ways to capture their child’s focus, parents can increase the likelihood of receiving a response and fostering better communication with their children.

How to get kids to listen? Consider allowing children to finish the activity they’re involved in, especially if it was previously agreed upon. Also, getting down at your child’s level, using a friendly tone, and making eye contact are known to improve parent-child communication.

4. Power struggles

Power struggles studies show that they are not only energy-draining, but they can also affect family relationships. Oftentimes, parents engage in power struggles when a child doesn’t listen, mostly because they see no other available resource to get their children to comply. 

Usually, you notice them during those explosive temper tantrums that 2 year-olds throw. You can also see them in parent-adolescent opinion exchanges that often turn into battles.

Power struggles can be avoided by setting clear boundaries and by constantly reinforcing the reasons why the family adheres to a particular set of values and rules.  A positive way to get children to cooperate is by offering choices within these boundaries. That can foster a sense of independence in children since it gives them space for making decisions. 

Choices should be age-appropriate and they can vary. Allow them to decide for themselves when to start a chore and how to solve it, what toothpaste flavor to choose, what clothing items to pick while shopping, what family menus to have, what trip destinations to go to, or what birthday theme they want.

Allowing children to manifest their autonomy can foster a sense of responsibility, make them feel part of the decision-making process, and improve their listening skills.

5. Feeling criticized

There’s a fine line between constructive feedback and criticism. When trying to motivate their children to improve, some parents might overlook it.

Sometimes, kids struggle to listen because you’re coming off as critical or complaining. When feeling criticized, children may become defensive and withdrawn. They may stop sharing how they feel or what is happening in their lives.

That is why feedback should be specific, focused on behavior, and delivered in a calm and respectful tone. It’s essential for parents to listen to their children’s perspectives and honor their need to be heard. 

Understanding and meeting the needs of your children is key to ensuring that the phrase “my kids don’t listen to me” remains absent from your parenting journey. By adeptly addressing your children’s requirements, you cultivate an environment of mutual respect and effective communication, laying the foundation for a harmonious parent-child relationship.

This collaborative approach not only fosters open communication but also encourages children to take ownership of their actions and actively participate in their own growth and development. 

When parents make an effort to truly listen to their children, it strengthens the parent-child relationship and creates a positive foundation for effective communication and mutual understanding.

6. Lack of trust

We all know the story of Peter and the Wolf. We use it to teach our children about the impact of words and intentions. However, we don’t take into account that the story could also apply to our parenting practices.

We ask children to trust in our judgment. But sometimes, we tell white lies and empty promises to get them to cooperate.

Some of the phrases we use most frequently in our interactions with our children are:

  • “If you don’t eat your vegetables, you’ll get sick”;
  • “If you misbehave, the boogeyman will come and get you”;
  • “If you don’t come now, I’ll leave you here”;
  • “Don’t make friends with X, they’re a bad influence”. 

We make false promises and empty threats and sometimes guide our children away from their personal beliefs in an attempt to motivate them to make better choices. Such actions can lead to the exact scenario we fear – “our kids not listening to us “my kids don’t listen to me“. This continuous approach risks rendering our words mere background noise, eroding the trust our children have in us.

7. Developmental stage

Though children start to understand spoken language and can interpret body language and facial expressions from a very young age, they don’t have the same communication skills as adults. They are not able to express their thoughts and feelings in the same way.

Young children are still developing their language skills and cognitive abilities. Their ability to understand and process information is limited by their brain development. 

Using adult language and concepts may be confusing for children and may make it difficult to understand what is expected of them. However, treating children like mini-adults can be overwhelming and confusing for them, and can have a negative impact on their development and well-being.

Why Kids Don’t Listen – Parents’ Perspective

1. Inconsistency in parenting 

Children need consistency to learn. Otherwise, they get confused.

Inconsistency can appear when parents ask the child to behave in a certain way, but only on specific occasions. We’ve all heard or used the “Just this once” pledge at least a few times. Here are some examples of contradictory things that parents may say when they go easy with limits for their children:

  • “Don’t eat with your hands” said in an irritated tone on a night out with family friends while the mantra at home is “Eating with your hands is a sensorial experience. Let the child eat how he wants”. 
  • “Bedtime is before 10PM in this house!” and “Who’s up for movie night?” on a given Wednesday.
  • “I can’t afford that”, but then they buy the requested item anyway. 

There are many examples when we make rules and values go out the window. Sometimes, without an explanation. It’s natural for children to like us better when we offer freedom than when we set firm boundaries. However, your child does not need you to be their friend, They’ll have many friends in their lives but only one set of parents.

Inconsistency can backfire and leave your child confused. Kids don’t always listen, and when we consistently give in to their requests, we might send contradictory messages. 

That’s why it’s important to set clear boundaries, communicate expectations, and teach children the value of hard work, responsibility, and delayed gratification. By doing so, we can help our children develop self-discipline, respect for authority, and a sense of independence. 

Consistent routines are the foundation of a structured environment where kids are more likely to listen and understand the expectations set by their parents.

2. Giving repeated warnings 

Parents give repeated warnings as a way to get through to their children. They use constant requests and reminders in an attempt to help their children avoid mistakes and make the right decisions. 

As a result, some children do not respond. Instead, they might become annoyed, frustrated, or resentful if they are constantly reminded of what they should or shouldn’t do.

Children may perceive nagging as a form of control or as a lack of trust in their ability to make good choices. This can be detrimental to children’s self-esteem and to their relationship with their parents. 

3. Not giving enough guidance or discipline 

Adults expect children to behave. However, expecting discipline from children without establishing a clear set of rules might yield undesirable outcomes. Saying “my kids don’t listen to me” becomes less justified without providing them with proper guidance.

Parents that are permissive see discipline as a form of constraint to their children’s freedom and well-being. They consider that too much parental guidance might stunt children’s creativity and individuality.

Although children enjoy the freedom they receive, kids don’t always listen when outside feedback doesn’t align with their parents’ perspective. Children who grow up with permissive parents may develop an entitled attitude. They start thinking that everything should be given to them the moment they make a request for it. Without clear boundaries and consequences, they may struggle to understand the value of hard work and the importance of personal responsibility. 

It’s important for parents to find a balance between providing independence and instilling discipline to help their children develop a strong work ethic and a sense of accountability.

When faced with challenges or criticism, they may struggle to receive feedback and may blame others for their failures. They may not understand that constructive feedback is necessary for growth and improvement, and may see any kind of feedback as a threat to their self-esteem.

Oftentimes, they will reject any form of authority and control and find themselves involved in different acts of defiance, conflict, or even hostility.

4. Overreacting or yelling 

When parents raise their voices to give instructions, it can cause a child to feel anxious, fearful, or overwhelmed. This can have a negative impact on their brain activity and development. 

Studies on parenting have shown that yelling can activate the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a key role in emotional processing and stress response. Speaking in a loud tone can also lead to a breakdown in communication between parent and child. When parents are overreacting, children may become defensive, shut down, or tune out their parent’s message. This can hinder their ability to learn from the experience or make positive changes in their behavior.

When parents feel like they are getting too upset or frustrated, they can take a break to calm down before continuing the conversation with their child. This can help them to stop yelling or saying something that they might regret later.

👉 Unlock the secrets of effective communication with your children! Explore our article on “How to Talk to Kids so They Listen and Respect” to discover valuable strategies and techniques for fostering open, respectful, and meaningful conversations with your little ones. Gain insights into active listening, positive reinforcement, and setting clear boundaries. 

5. Not being a good role model 

Although many parents require children to comply and give them their full attention, they don’t model this behavior themselves. Stress, job responsibilities, house chores, and many other adult responsibilities seem to be plausible reasons why parents can’t adhere to their children’s needs and requests. 

To a great extent, most children’s negative behaviors, like not listening and following directions, arise from the perception that their opinions don’t matter, that they don’t matter. Being a good role model for open, kind, and assertive communication can help children better understand what’s expected of them and improve the parent-child relationship.

6. Too much criticism 

Constant criticism can impact children’s self-esteem. Some parents use criticism in their attempt to motivate their children to improve.

However, this can have the opposite effect and it can become one of the reasons a kid doesn’t listen to parents. Children might feel criticized when parents offer too much feedback on the choice of clothes, physical appearance, school performance, social interactions and so on. 

Our tone of voice, our choice of words, and the moment we pick to offer our feedback are essential factors to consider if we want our children to comply. For instance, they can get embarrassed if we make comments about their clothes in front of their peers. 

More so when parents offer feedback to their children while they are angry or frustrated. This can be detrimental to the educational aspect of the feedback. In these situations, children may miss the opportunity to learn from the feedback. Instead, they focus on the negative emotions of the parent.

While it’s true that some family environments may include the use of friendly sarcastic comments, it’s important to ensure that these comments are balanced with positive interactions and effective communication. When used excessively, sarcastic comments can create a negative environment that can impact a child’s emotional and psychological well-being. 

To avoid this, parents might want to pair sarcastic comments and constructive feedback with moments of active listening, caring open talks, and positive reinforcement for good behavior. This can help children feel heard, valued, and appreciated, and can help them develop a sense of self-worth and confidence. By integrating these strategies, parents can build stronger connections with their children and mitigate the situation where they might say, “my kids don’t listen to me.”

👉 Master the art of effective communication with your children! Discover our insightful article on “How to Communicate with Children Effectively” and learn valuable strategies to enhance your interactions.

7. Lack of empathy 

Empathy plays a key role in children’s emotional and social development. However, some parents think that by showing empathy, they’ll spoil their children. 

They refrain from showing emotional support when the child feels overwhelmed. Without the proper emotional support, children may struggle to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with life’s challenges.

Instead of focusing on how “my kids don’t listen to me”, showing empathy and modeling effective communication and conflict resolution skills helps parents teach their children how to express their thoughts and emotions in a constructive way.

Children can learn how to listen, respond, negotiate and compromise, and work collaboratively with others. This approach is linked to positive parenting and can help promote healthy social and emotional development in children. 

8. Overuse of punishment

Frequent punishments in the absence of clear communication can be detrimental to the parent-child relationship. Children may feel that they are being unfairly targeted or that their parents don’t understand their perspective. 

This can lead to resentment, frustration, and even rebellion. When addressing misbehavior becomes necessary, consequences should be delivered in a calm and consistent manner, with a focus on correcting behavior rather than punishing the child. 

Parents should make sure that they communicate rules and expectations clearly to their children before resorting to punishments. When children understand what is expected of them and the consequences of their actions, they are more likely to comply with rules and avoid behaviors that may lead to punishments.

9. Disconnection and Lack of Attention

Children don't listen when they are distracted by screens

In a world where technology is mainstream in all areas of daily life, people feel more disconnected than ever.

This can have a negative effect on family life and close relationships. Although social media, video games, interactive apps and video streaming were designed to get us connected to people and the world around us, they also brought some issues that are negatively impacting our children’s emotional and psychological well-being.

Family dinners where members bring their phones to the table are very common. Though screen addiction is usually considered an issue with children, many adults admit that their use of technology exceeds the limits they set for them. This can result in kids not listening to parents and also parents not spending quality time with kids.

To avoid this, adults should set clear limits on their own technology use. This can involve setting aside designated times for technology use, such as during breaks or after work hours. It can also involve engaging in non-screen activities, such as exercise, reading, or spending time with friends and family.

By modeling responsible use of technology, adults can set a positive example for their children and promote healthy habits for the entire family. This can lead to better relationships, improved mental and physical health, and a more balanced and fulfilling lifestyle.

Conclusion

It might get frustrating to have to repeat ourselves when children don’t seem to listen or don’t respond when spoken to. That is because we all have the expectation that children will listen to us and do as we say. Contrary to common beliefs, obtaining compliance from children does not mean that you should seek to have absolute control over their lives. By doing so, you create an environment where children willingly pay attention and respond, avoiding the situation where you might exclaim, “my kids don’t listen to me”.

It is equally important to prioritize listening to children and understanding their perspectives. By actively listening to our children, we create an environment where they feel valued, heard, and respected. This, in turn, fosters healthy communication and cooperation between parents and children, promoting a stronger parent-child relationship built on trust and understanding.

Trying to control others or being controlled can be a source of frustration, leading to power struggles and disharmony in the family. Parents need to understand and respect their children’s individuality, set realistic expectations, and provide them with firm yet understanding guidance using a gentle and empathetic approach. So, it’s essential to understand that a toddler not listening is not necessarily defying you; their curiosity and growing autonomy often take precedence. Similarly, if you have a teenager, it’s perfectly normal to find it a challenging journey. However, with the right attitude, everything will fall into place.

If you’re seeking more effective strategies to address the ‘my kids don’t listen to me’ challenge, consider joining our free online event titled 3 Methods to Get Your Children to Listen. This event provides an excellent starting point. By incorporating this science-based approach into your parenting toolkit, you’ll recognize the significance of listening to children, not solely them listening to you. Discover how to cultivate a robust and affectionate relationship with your children, facilitating their growth into emotionally resilient and well-balanced individuals.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Active listening. https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/communication/activelistening.html

Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., Spinrad, T. L., Fabes, R. A., Shepard, S. A., Reiser, M., Murphy, B. C., Losoya, S. H., & Guthrie, I. K. (2001). The relations of regulation and emotionality to children’s externalizing and internalizing problem behavior. Child development, 72(4), 1112–1134. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8624.00337 

Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.). 7 tips for Raising Caring Kids. Making Caring Common. https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/resources-for-families/7-tips-raising-caring-kids 

Heather Fritzley, V., Lindsay, R. C., & Lee, K. (2013). Young children’s response tendencies toward yes-no questions concerning actions. Child development, 84(2), 711–725. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12006 

Hoffman, M.S., Hanson, B. J., Brotherson, S. E.,& Zehnacker, G. (2021). Boundaries: A Boundary Setting and Social Competence Program for Parents and Youth. Journal of Human Sciences & Extension, 9(3), 229 – 252.

Joussemet, M., Mageau, G. A., Larose, M. P., Briand, M., & Vitaro, F. (2018). How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk: a randomized controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of the how-to parenting program on children’s mental health compared to a wait-list control group. BMC pediatrics, 18(1), 257. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-018-1227-3 

Meng, K., Yuan, Y., Wang, Y., Liang, J., Wang, L., Shen, J., & Wang, Y. (2020). Effects of parental empathy and emotion regulation on social competence and emotional/behavioral problems of school‐Age Children. PEDIATRIC INVESTIGATION, 4(2), 91–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/ped4.12197 

Niaraki, F. R., & Rahimi, H. (2013). The impact of authoritative, permissive and authoritarian behavior of parents on self-concept, psychological health and life quality. European Online Journal of Natural and Social Sciences, 2(1), 78 – 85. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/230050065.pdf 

Nieman, P., & Shea, S. (2004). Effective discipline for children. Paediatrics & Child Health, 9(1), 37–41. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/9.1.37

Rahmawati, A., Fajrianthi, Józsa, K., & Morgan, G. A. (2020). Mastery motivation in early childhood. Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Learning Innovation and Quality Education. https://doi.org/10.1145/3452144.3453756 

Seehausen, M., Kazzer, P., Bajbouj, M., & Prehn, K. (2012). Effects of empathic paraphrasing – extrinsic emotion regulation in social conflict. Frontiers in Psychology, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00482 

Setoh, P., Zhao, S., Santos, R., Heyman, G. D., & Lee, K. (2020). Parenting by lying in childhood is associated with negative developmental outcomes in adulthood. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 189, 104680. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2019.104680

Read more on this topic

Discover our parenting expert

Patrick Ney
Lead Trainer at All About Parenting
Patrick Ney

Patrick Ney is a Neurodevelopmental Specialist who has been working with parents at All About Parenting for 5 years. He is husband to Maja and father to 2 beautiful daughters, Zofia and Mia. Patrick joined All About Parenting, determined to become a better parent before becoming a Certified Trainer. To date, he has run over 1000 workshops, events, and masterclasses for more than 100,000 parents.

Patrick is certified in a range of other methodologies, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and the HANDLE Methodology for neurodiverse children. He is a Certified DIR Floortime Practitioner and has been described as a ‘natural born play therapist.’ Patrick bases his work with parents on neuroscience, studying Applied Neuroscience at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. Patrick has appeared as a TEDx speaker, and his first book, ‘The Storm: How To Stop Shouting At Your Kids’ will be published in Autumn 2022.

But more than anything else, Patrick is a father. His love for his daughters has led him on a journey to being a better dad for his girls and sharing that story with other parents. His work inspires thousands of parents to start learning parenting, and he shares both his successes and his many failures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get answers for any parenting question

Thank you!

Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.
You will start receiving our newsletter.