HELP! My Children Don’t Listen!

This is such a common complaint that I hear from parents.  Of course, what parents mean when they say, “My child doesn’t listen” is really “My child is not obeying me or doing what I asked.”

Some mothers will say, “Well, Carrie, I asked Jimmy to put his coat on four times and he just runs away”  or “Samson won’t let me brush his teeth.”  Some small children can tell you exactly WHY they shouldn’t do something, like hitting or biting someone, but then they turn right around and do it anyway!


Let’s return back to some basics with small children:

1.  Return yourself to a peaceful state of mind, and realize that this issue is going to have to be dealt with in a repetitive manner in about the same tone you would use to say, “Could you please pass me the pepper?”  Try to erase the notion that you and your child are on opposite sides here, and foster the notion that this is a situation that you are going to help and guide and support and love your child through.  Try this back post on anger:

Try and connect with your child and cultivate that warmth, that love, that joy and that delight in that child during times when things like this are not happening.  Try to go in at night and see your child for as small and innocent as they really are, and meditate or pray over them.  It really does help!  Connection is THE most important and primary ingredient of guiding a child – connection in the moment BEFORE you ask the child something, connection in HOW you ask it, connection at other times throughout the day.  CONNECTION is the key.  Try “Connection Parenting” by Pam Leo for help and also Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold On To Your Kids!” for further information.

2.  Think through the situation and what is underneath it.  Don’t ask them, but just think!  For example,  for not wanting to put a coat on, is it not wanting to leave, is it that there is no rhythm built in to when we leave the house and the child is in the middle of playing, is it that the child is being silly and needs  to get some energy out?  Mind you, none of these are excuses for behavior.  It is just sort of probing the waters and seeing what other things are going on. It may help you adjust some things so things flow more smoothly.

3.  Can you use less commands?  Can you start the activity? For example, if you just go to the bathroom and start brushing your teeth and when your child follows you into the bathroom can you just hand them a toothbrush?  Hum a song.  If they run away, can you just wait a moment and then calmly try again?  Not by calling them, but maybe by  finding them under the bed and  calmly and gently  pulling them out, carrying them to the bathroom with a funny accented voice that The Tooth Investigator must check your teeth,etc.  Can you put on your coat and then help your child into theirs with a song?  Not by screaming out, time to get your coat on Jimmy! from the bottom of the stairs.  Go up and get Jimmy!  And be flexible – can Jimmy put his coat on in the car?  When you get there?

Check what tools for gentle discipline you have in your tool belt:

Can you shift them into fantasy or creative movement?

And you might be thinking,  that’s great Carrie for situations where I can be flexible, but my little one hitting or biting is not a flexible situation!  You are right!  Which leads us to…..

4.  Understanding that even if a child understands why not to do something, they don’t have the impulse control of an adult.  Restitution is most important in  the cases of biting, hitting, breaking a sibling’s toy.  “Janie was sad when you bit her.” (to a three year old and up aged child).  “Let’s draw her a beautiful picture together.”

Also, divorce the offending body part from the child –divorcing  the mouth, the hands, the feet –  from the child who will take the “You bad child, you hurt your sister!” into incredible self-awareness and shame because they are still small themselves.  Try, “Uh-oh, your hands forgot what they were doing!  Come and use those hands for peeling these potatoes for dinner!”  “Your feet forgot what they were doing!  Come and kick this ball!”  But never leave the restitution part out, the fact you are moving the energy of the mouth, the hands, the feet into practical work in no way makes up for the harm they caused by biting or hitting someone else.  Restitution is key.

Also, I do think in cases of siblings hitting or biting siblings, the child needs your connection and your love outside of the times of hitting or biting or whatnot.  Do they get time alone with you?  This is important as children grow.  Are all your children melding into one family unit of “The Children” or are there times alone with each of them, and times for each of them to be alone with Daddy as well?

Just a few thoughts today on these challenging discipline situations.



9 thoughts on “HELP! My Children Don’t Listen!

  1. Carrie,

    I can’t remember if I’ve left you a comment before, but in case I haven’t, let me say: THANK YOU! I stumbled upon your website, and it really has been a timely blessing to me in my quest to be an ever more present and loving and informed mother. I am sure it takes lots of thought and energy and work for you to gather all of this, especially linking everything to back posts, and book reviews, but I am ever so grateful. I have been passing your site here on to friends as well.

  2. Can you write some more about restitution?
    I’ve always felt it was wrong to ‘force’ a child to ‘say sorry’ – that it was meaningless and didn’t help either party… but I do feel drawn to somehow making the connection that the other party was hurt in some way and teaching a child how to express their remorse etc… especially in our house with lots of sibling arguments at the moment. I am just not sure how to do this in a way that feels real and comfortable to us.

    • I will write more, katepickle, but I just want to quickly say restitution has absolutely nothing to do with words — action, action, action. And it may not be right in the moment, it may be later after things have calmed down. Making a beautiful picture, fixing something broken, whatever the situation was — what action could be healing?

  3. This is so timely for me, I am really struggling with my little guy. Or should I say I am struggling with myself. My own feelings of impatience, frustration, tiredness and sadness. I find I have a short fuse and his not following directions drives me crazy! I just want him to work with me but he ignores most instructions. If I try to gently but physically draw him to a task he will often pull himself away or throw himself down and ‘accuse’ me of ‘pushing’ him, it drives me mad as it is like being accused of physical abuse.

    With a toddler in the house I am really struggling to have the creativity and energy that I need. I keep re reading your blog as a bit of a mantra but I am still having a hard time. I worry that this resentment I feel is building up and damaging our relationship. Any advice? Thanks so much for your blog, it is wonderful and I am finding so much here that is very helpful and uplifting.

    • Emmalina, Did you see the two toddler posts – one is Trippin Into Toddlerhood, use the search engine and toddler and some things should come up…Oh wait, you might be talking about an older child and not a toddler?
      I think just be very, very mindful of the things you ask him to do…less is more, really focus on just being together and that quantity time. Lots of time for transitions, and really that building a way to hold the space for him. A strong rhythm and thinking through things ahead of time really does help…
      More to come,

  4. oh yeah…after a disaster of a weekend last weekend…I really had to rethink what I was doing and how i was doing it…your webcast thursday really really helped…and I have to say, this weekend has been great…Today, especially, was perfect.

    thank you

  5. When me and my wife separated through divorce, we had no choice but to settle arrangements when it comes to co-parenting. We have 2 young kids and we don’t want them to suffer just because we needed to part ways. So me and my ex-wife are working hand in hand to take care of the kids. My wife also bought co-parenting planner/organizer from which really is of big help in this process. Hopefully we’ll get things flowing smoothly as planned. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  6. Carrie – Do you have an obedience (or not listening!) post geared more toward the 7 year old? I’m really having trouble with my daughter who dawdles and very hard to motivate to do anything. Also, can you point me to posts on developing a rhythm? I know you have a lot of rhythm posts – but it’s hard to find ones that focus on developing it. Thanks so much – I LOVE you blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.