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Building Listening Skills in Young Children


I am a 51-year-old parent with a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. My children have no focus. My wife and I often resort to yelling in order for our children to follow our instructions. We hate doing this. Though our children are spoiled, they do not get everything they want. But there is no urgency to do what we ask of them. What can we do?



Parenting is both rewarding and challenging. You are right on track when you mention that your children are spoiled. “Spoiled” does not necessarily mean getting everything that you want. When children whine, argue to get their way, do not take no for an answer or get several warnings or chances before they do a requested chore, they appear disrespectful or ungrateful, thus spoiled.

If they know Dad will repeat his request multiple times before the yelling starts or if they have not received immediate consequences in the past, they have learned to ignore adult directives. 

You and your wife can turn your situation around with time and a consistent, concerted effort. First, you and your wife must agree on a parenting plan.  Discipline is most effective when it comes from a united front, which means that you and your wife will be working together.

Discipline is not just delivering a punishment – it is teaching: 1. Teach them what behaviors you expect; 2. Model that behavior for them, even practicing with them; 3. Tell them the consequence of not abiding by that behavior; and 4. Offer either a reward or punishment appropriate for the behavior that they display.

Have a family meeting at which you state the new house rules. Given your children’s young ages, five minutes is long enough. Say something like this: “From now on when Mom and Dad call your name, this is what we want you to do:  1. Stop whatever you are doing. 2. Look directly at us and listen. 3. Repeat back what you need to do. 4. Go do it.” 
Role-play a situation with them that is likely to occur in your house. If your son is playing a video game, for example, he will need to 1. Put the controller down. 2. Look at you and listen. 3. Say “You want me to turn the game off in two minutes.”  4. Stop the game in two minutes.

If your children know ahead of time that they will lose a privilege if they fail to follow your plan, you most likely will have success. But this won’t happen overnight. You must be consistent ​and patient. It took your children a long time to learn their poor listening skills. It will take a long time – a few months even – to  unlearn them.