How To Talk To Your Children: 30 Right Ways To Try

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Sometimes, telling your child to do something as simple as putting their jacket on when going out or putting away their toys can seem like an uphill task–confused about how to talk to kids? It’s easy to lose your cool and resort to yelling. And worse, the louder you get, the more you’re ignored.

To make your child listen to you, paying attention to how you speak to them is extremely important. When you use a positive tone or appreciate their efforts, it makes them feel good, and they work towards improving themselves.

Read on as we tell you a few practical ways to talk to kids.

30 Ways To Talk So Kids Listen To You

Try any of these tips to talk to your children and see a marked improvement in the way they listen and follow your directives.

1. Keep it short and simple

Sometimes, as parents, you may forget you’re talking to your child and give out too much information, talk too much, or use words that they don’t understand. A child has a limited attention span, so the more verbose you are, the more likely your words may disappear into thin air.

Apply the one-sentence rule to ensure that your instructions don’t go over your child’s head. This rule states that your opening sentence should contain the primary directive. Be direct, so the directions don’t get sidetracked or lost in translation.

2. Stay calm

When you yell, it creates a negative impression. To fight back or defend themselves, your children might involuntarily go into flight or fight mode and lose sight of your message. Make it a rule to convey anything to your child only when you feel calm and composed.

3. Acknowledge their point of view

When you’re in the middle of something important, you don’t like being interrupted. Similarly, in your child’s world, reading a book, playing a game on the iPad, or building a tower is their “important stuff,” and they don’t want to be interrupted.

To get them to listen to you, wait until they take a break and then pass on your message. At times, when time is of the essence, make it known to them kindly yet firmly. You can say something on the lines of “I know you’re focused on your game right now, but this is important, and I need you to…”

4. Be a role model

Children are like sponges; they pick up the habits, behaviors, or mannerisms they observe. So, when your child is talking to you and you’re more focused on your email or a book, they are likely to follow your example. It is essential to first model and then expect good behavior.

Take a second, put down your phone, look at them, and listen to what they have to say. Also, don’t forget to teach them basic good manners and etiquette.

5. Give one instruction at a time

Often, children don’t respond well to multiple instructions. Give them one instruction at a time. A chain of instructions, such as “Go inside, put your backpack away, wash your hands, eat food, and then do your homework,” can overwhelm them.

Start with one instruction, and after they complete it, move on to the next.

6. Ensure you have all their attention

It’s unlikely you’ll get their attention to complete a task if you shout out the instructions from the next room. When you want to deliver a message, you must be in front of them. Address them, make eye contact, and then say what you have to say.

Get rid of any distractions, such as games or the TV, so you have their complete attention when you speak.

7. Explain the reason and give proper details

When you want your child to complete a task, give them a rational explanation as to why they need to complete the task. This gives it purpose and structure. When you explain the reason behind your request, your child will understand its importance and be more willing to follow through with it.

For instance, if your child wants more time on the iPad and you say an unequivocal ‘NO,’ they may not understand why. But if you tell them the consequences of prolonged screen time, they’re more likely to comply.

8. Give them some time to process information

Children need longer time than adults to process information. So, when you say something, don’t expect an instantaneous response. Instead, wait a few seconds, give them time to process the information, and respond. Don’t forget to check if they’ve understood what you said.

Sometimes, you can read their expression and determine if they’ve understood. Asking them to repeat the instructions helps ensure how well they’ve understood your message. If they are unable to repeat it, break it down into smaller parts and simplify it for them.

9. Set clear expectations and rules

You want your child to grow into a well-behaved, confident, and happy child. And for that to happen, rules are essential. Without age-appropriate rules, you’re setting your child up for failure. Children like independence and rules help manage their behavior until they’re able to self-regulate.

Do not worry that your family rules will dampen your child’s spirit. Instead, it will help them bloom and flourish. When you lay down rules and set boundaries, ensure they’re clear and reasonable and be consistent with them. Do not modify them unless necessary.

10. Say it gently but firmly

No doubt, children can be a handful, and at times, they can get on your last nerve. However, it’s best to stay calm and never lose your temper. Always use a gentle tone. A sweet tone automatically pacifies a child and makes them more amenable to suggestions and instructions.

At the same time, take a firm stance and ensure they follow through with it.

11. Avoid negative commands

Tell the child what to do instead of what not to do. Steer clear from terms such as ‘stop,’ ‘don’t,’ or ‘quit,’ which can result in a child acting out negatively. For instance, rather than saying ‘stop running,’ you can say ‘please come and stand here’ or ‘please sit down’ in an I-mean-business tone.

12. Ask your child to repeat your directions aloud

This works well for children who get distracted easily. When you give them an instruction, ask them to repeat it aloud. This way, when your child says an instant ‘ok,’ you know whether they’ve understood it.

Remember, it may not be easy for children to repeat an instruction. So, don’t get mad if they struggle; wait patiently. You can get them to repeat it a couple of times until they’re completely clear.

13. Converse about things they find interesting

It’s essential to make time for a one-on-one conversation with your child regularly. Talk about their interests, friendships, and more. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say. At such times, you can take the help of conversation starters for children and take the discussion forward.

When you communicate daily, they become more comfortable at asking you anything and even confiding in you. Whether it’s while driving them to school or walking in the park, you need to find the time to talk to them. You don’t have to structure this into your schedule; take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and spend quality time with your child.

14. Be precise

While you may have a clear idea of what you want to say or get done, your children may not be able to understand you. Sometimes, even a simple instruction, such as ‘go and clean your room,’ may seem uncomplicated and straightforward to you, but children may have a hard time figuring out what you mean.

Instead of making a broad statement, you can break it down, so they’re aware of what is expected from them. You can tell them, ‘make your bed,’ ‘put away your toys,’ or ‘pick up the trash from the room.’ Once you use this approach, you’ll see that it yields better, quicker, and more effective results.

15. Try not to interrupt them

Children are imaginative and love weaving everything into a long story. If you take a minute or two out of your busy schedule to listen to them without any interruptions, they will listen to you the same way. However, if you keep shifting your focus and seem disinterested, they will lose interest in sharing what’s on their mind with you.

For instance, if your child is telling you about how they were playing with a sharp object, don’t interrupt them to talk about the perils. Wait for them to complete, and then, express your opinion and thoughts.

16. Don’t sweat the small stuff

You have rules in place for a reason. And yes, you and your child should abide by them. But if you blow up over every small matter, your children will eventually tune out and assume everything they do will be attached to a lecture. Instead, when they make small mistakes. Ask open-ended questions which can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ such as ‘Why did you find your homework difficult?’ or ‘How could you have done this differently?’

This approach not only lets you have a candid discussion but also encourages your child to reflect on the problem and come up with a solution. Once they understand a rule from their own perspective, they follow the rules you enforce.

17. Give them choices

Rather than saying, ‘If you don’t do this, you can’t have that,’ when asking them to do something or giving them a directive, offer them a choice. This gives them a sense of responsibility, makes them feel they have a certain degree of control over their lives, and fosters decision-making skills.

18. Offer positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement goes a long way in effective listening. When your child listens to you, offer reinforcement in the form of words, such as ‘good job,’ or simple rewards, such as 15 minutes of extra TV time. You can even give them special treats occasionally. But remember to use rewards sparingly, so you can continue to encourage the kind of behavior you’re looking for and not make them associate every act with a reward.

19. Don’t repeat

Telling your child the same thing over and over again will eventually go in vain. Try to get their complete attention at one go and tell them what you want. This way, they’ll listen and won’t get irritated and act out due to repeated directives.

Moreover, when they don’t follow through, it might frustrate you and even make you resort to punishment, which is an unnecessary step. When they don’t listen the first time, stay calm, get their attention, and reiterate your point. State your instruction firmly, and ensure they follow through.

20. Tell your child what to do instead of what not to do

Recollect a time when you told your child not to do something, and yet, they did it anyway. Children respond better to specific directions. Steer clear from terms such as ‘stop,’ ‘don’t,’ or ‘quit,’ which can result in your child acting out negatively.

So, rather than saying, ‘stop running in the house,’ you can say, ‘please come and stand here’ or ‘please sit down.’ When you give an instruction, ensure you say it with confidence and direction.

21. Acknowledge when your child puts in the effort

Everyone, including children, likes to be praised and complimented. When you praise and appreciate your child for something they did right, they will do it more often.

You can say, ‘I saw you struggling with homework, but you completed it; keep it up’ or ‘I’m happy to see that you’re sharing your toys with your friends; good job.’ While they may not seem to care or show that they care, their reactions are far from what they feel on the inside.

22. Use your child’s name

Young children can concentrate and focus on only one thing at a time. So, if you address your child by their name before you deliver your message, it will instantly get their attention.

For instance, you could say, ‘Amy, can you please bring me my purse?’ You can call out their name a few times, wait for them to stop what they’re doing, and look at you before you tell them what to do.

23. Do not raise your voice or yell

You might have observed classrooms where teachers try to yell amid the noise of the class. This approach never works, and it applies in a home setting too. If your child is annoyed and yelling, there’s no use yelling back or raising your voice further. Either wait until they have finished and speak calmly or tell them you’ll talk to them only when they’re calm.

Keep in mind that if you raise your voice at all times, your child will not pay heed when it really matters. If used only when relevant or in an emergency situation, you will draw your child’s attention, and they’ll listen. Try to model the right behavior at all times.

24. Don’t nag

At the end of the day, you want your child to have completed certain necessary tasks, such as putting their toys away or folding their clothes. By constantly nagging your child, you’ll get nowhere near making your child follow your instructions. Instead, you can make a chart of daily tasks they need to achieve and put it up somewhere they’ll notice.

Explain that just a few minutes of their time would be enough to get their chores done. Before you put the lights out at night, take a walk around and check if they’ve done what they have to do. If they have completed their tasks, you can acknowledge their efforts.

25. Show acceptance

Every child is different. They have their own way of learning, processing information, and doing things. When you show your child you accept and love them just the way they are, they will feel loved and listen to you.

For instance, if your child is scared of sleeping with the lights off, do not ridicule them for it. You can ask them to leave the door open, turn the night light on, and assure them that you will check on them later at night. This will encourage them and make them know that you’re always there for them.

26. Tell, don’t ask

If your child has been ignoring your instructions lately, a common mistake you can make when you give instructions is to ask and not tell. When you ask a child who repeatedly ignores your instructions something, it implies they have an option to either do it or not to do it. Whereas, if you tell them something, it doesn’t leave them with an option.

For instance, if you say ‘Can you please change your clothes?’ it gives your child the option to say no, whereas if you tell them ‘Please change your clothes now’ it leaves them no room for negotiation. If your child doesn’t follow through instantly, you can give them a five-minute warning. You can say, ‘Please change your clothes in five minutes.’ If the time’s up and they haven’t done it yet, you can state it more firmly and tell them there will be consequences.

27. Respect their independence

If you have a teen, know that they do not like orders. Orders, such as ‘stop it,’ are forms of authoritarian parenting, which give room to resistance and defiance. Teens love their new-found independence, and constantly ordering them around makes them feel like their independence is lost.

To avoid power struggles, back-talking, and defiance, make them understand why you have asked them to do something and try to respect their personal boundaries.

28. Set consequences

Just like how a fence needs regular maintenance and constant adjustment, your children need boundaries. Your child may not admit it or show it, but they feel safer when they have set limits.

One of the ways to maintain boundaries is to have consequences for breaking a rule. Consequences help your children learn to stay within their limits, take ownership of their actions, learn from their mistakes, and make good choices, eventually preparing them for adulthood.

29. Let them take the lead

Give children the independence to make their own decisions, within reasonable limits, of course. For instance, you can ask them what routine they want to follow.

Once they answer, you can brainstorm with them and work out effective solutions. This enables them to think for themselves and follow the routines even in your absence., Furthermore, they will do even those tasks they dislike, such as brushing their teeth, as they’ve made the decision.

30. Shower them with love and more love

Sometimes, when children don’t listen, it’s their way of making a point or sending you a message. Try your best to restore goodwill. Be there for them, shower them with love, listen to them, and understand their perspective.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is talking to my child important?

Talking to children is essential to teach them various life skills and comprehend their thoughts and feelings on different aspects of life. Moreover, maintaining open and effective communication with your child from a young age aids in enhancing their knowledge, confidence, memory, language, and cognitive skills (1).

2. Why does the way of talking to children matter?

Properly talking to your child is important to have them comprehend and respond to you effectively. In addition, using age-appropriate ways of communication, such as reading books, telling stories, displaying affection, and incorporating gentle ways of disciplining (without yelling), is crucial to facilitate your child’s healthy emotional and physical development (2).

Many parents often complain about their children not listening to them. Hence, they look around for tips on how to talk to them so they would understand and comply with what they have to say. You can try some simple and effective strategies to get your kids to listen to you and understand what you want them to convey. However, these tips need persistent efforts with time and patience before you see any results. Moreover, the results also depend on the child’s age and overall maturity.

Key Pointers

  • For an effective conversation, grasp their attention and give them some time to process the details after the instruction.
  • Keep the sentences short by giving one instruction at a time.
  • Stay calm and praise them for putting in the effort of being an attentive listener.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Speak to your child in the language you know best.
    https://www.vic.gov.au/speak-your-child-language-you-know-best
  2. Parenting Matters; Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8.
    https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/childdevelopment/features/parenting-matters.html
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Advaitaa Ravi

Advaitaa is a digital marketing and content writing specialist with around seven years of experience. She’s worked on a variety of genres including travel, fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and health and wellness. For MomJunction, she writes on kids’ activities, learning and development. Having completed her graduation in business management, Advaitaa went on to study fashion merchandising from the Fashion Institute of Technology,... more

Sadhvi Nishtha Om

Monk Sadhvi Nishtha Om is a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist in India. She has worked with children, adolescents and adults using tools such as Therapeutic Meditation, Inner Child Healing, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Emotional Empowerment Technique (EET) in a career spanning more than a decade. She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Delhi, India.... more