Are You Teaching Your Child to Ignore You?

We’ve often heard parents say, “I hate to yell, but the kids just won’t listen until I do!”

If the kids aren’t listening to requests, it may be about more than inattentiveness. It could be that the family culture does not exemplify respectful listening. We have seen in many families that often kids who don’t listen well are kids who don’t feel very listened to. Learning to view listening issues as a whole family problem — and not just one disobedient child’s problem — has helped many parents better address the listening issue with their child.

When kids don’t listen

Here’s how we’ve seen it typically play out. See if there’s anything familiar here:

  1. Parent makes a request. No response by child.
  2. Slightly stronger request. No response.
  3. Demanding yell that communicates “I really mean business!” Child reacts with fear and does what was asked.

If we parent in a way that our children learn to respond only to our yelling, they may learn a life-long habit of ignoring respectful people and submitting to angry people. They may also learn to become loud and forceful in order to get what they want.

When parents are the ones who don’t listen

John was chatting in a church lobby. His son quietly said, “Daddy,” and patted John’s leg to get his attention. No response.

Several more quiet attempts. Still no response.

The little guy was no dummy, so he shifted his aim from dad’s leg to a sensitive area nearby. THAT totally got his dad’s attention. The lesson John taught his son? “Respectful requests get you nowhere. But a little aggression? Now that gets you some attention.”

If we’ve taught kids that we only pay attention to them when they get loud and demanding (or even aggressive), we’ve taught them to be those angry people.

If these patterns of not listening and escalating to disrespectful demands describe your family, you’re not alone! Working to change this pattern will be well worth the effort as it bears lifelong fruit in your kids’ relationships to carve out a new way of interacting. This shift is best accomplished by team effort.

1. Talk about it as a family

Helpful scripture could include: James 1:19-20.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Helpful questions could include:

  • How does everybody feel about the amount of yelling that happens in our home? More specifically, how does it feel to be ignored; how does it feel to be yelled at or demanded?
  • How would we each like it to go?
  • When we do a better job of listening and responding, how does that happen? Be specific about what is different, and how that feels.

Since the “buck stops at the parents,” set an example of humility: apologize for whatever ways you ignore kids’ requests, or are unclear when you make requests of them.

(For young kids this discussion may just be – How do you feel when Mommy yells at you?… Yeah, I don’t like yelling either. I want to work harder to listen to you, and to be clear when I ask you to do something. You can help by trying to listen better too.)

2. Brainstorm ideas

Ask, “How could we work together to learn a new habit of listening and responding to each other?” Agree on effective ways to get each other’s attention and make clear, respectful requests.

3. Practice do-overs for the mistakes and celebrate the successes

If you find yourself shooting a directive from across the room to a child who ignores you, go over to your child and tell them – “I want a do-over and you get one also.” Get on their level, smile at them (maybe even touch a shoulder), and make a clear request. If they’ve sensed you are for them, not against them, they will likely respond in a way that you can affirm and celebrate their listening.

If you just want to stop the yelling, your effort may peter out when the going gets tough. So ask God to give you a passion and vision to equip kids for lifelong respectful relationships!


Frustrated by constant discipline challenges? Take 15 minutes to read our free ebook When Your Child Misbehaves – Four Strategies for Lasting Change.

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