boy listening
boy listening

Part 1 – Why won’t my child listen to me?

Do you have to repeat yourself to your child multiple times only to be ignored time and time again?

Need to know

Do you have to repeat yourself to your child multiple times only to be ignored time and time again? You are not alone – one of the biggest complaints by parents is that their kids don’t listen to them. There might be many reasons why your child “ignores” what you say. Some are related to how you engage with them, but others could be a symptom of a medical condition.

Why it’s important

You’ve tried all the different parenting strategies and your child is still not “listening”. If this is the case, it’s important to find out if there are underlying medical conditions.

Hearing problems – frequent ear infections or “glue ear” can increase the chance of hearing loss in children. Some indicators that you should get your child’s hearing tested include your child: 

  • talking very loudly 
  • insisting on having the TV on the highest volume
  • having difficulties with pronouncing words or sounds
  • not responding when they are called

Auditory Processing Disorder (ADP) – children with ADP have normal hearing, the issue is how the ears and the brain work together to process the sounds they hear. This condition impacts a child’s understanding of speech and it can be misdiagnosed as hearing loss, an intellectual disorder, ADHD or a language/learning difficulty. 

Signs that your child might have an Auditory Processing Disorder include your child:

  • missing details or steps when given directions
  • misunderstanding words with similar sounds
  • having difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments
  • struggling with reading and spelling
  • having trouble following a conversation
  • taking a long time to respond
  • often responding with “huh?” “what?”
  • having problems concentrating and paying attention

The overlap and comorbidity with other conditions requires a thorough assessment for a correct diagnosis. If you have concerns, it is best to have your child checked by an audiologist to test their hearing, a psychologist to assess their cognitive processing, and/or a speech pathologist to evaluate their oral and written communication skills. In addition, it’s important to speak to your child’s teachers to get feedback on your child’s specific learning challenges. 

Tips & strategies

The following strategies are helpful for all children, including those with or without a diagnosis.

Be present and at their level – avoid giving instructions from another room, you need to be near your child for them to pay attention to what you are saying. If they are engrossed in an activity ask them to pause it before you talk to them. Position yourself at their level and ask for acknowledgement that they are listening to you before asking them to do something. Eye contact is not a requirement for listening and forcing Autistic children to do this can be harmful.

Use a keyword –  adults tend to talk in long sentences but too many words can be hard for a child to process. Sometimes all kids need are keywords like “shoes”“lunchbox” or “jacket”, to draw attention to what you want them to do.

One thing at a time – multi step instructions can be overwhelming because it’s easy to forget what to do first. Breaking up requests into single actions will be much easier for kids to understand. Instead of “go put your PJs on and don’t forget to put the dirty clothes in the laundry, then make sure you go straight to the bathroom to brush your teeth.” consider splitting all those instructions into 3 separate ones. Try saying “let’s go put your PJs on” and acknowledging the task has been completed before moving on to the next step. “Well done! Let’s pick up the dirty clothes and put them in the laundry” and finally “Thanks for being so helpful, time to brush teeth”.

Give them a chance – children process language at a different rate to adults. Everything you say might just take a few more seconds for your child to process, make sure to give them a few extra moments for what you said to sink in.

Reduce requests – we often bombard children with multiple demands when we could limit imposing our will. If it doesn’t affect their or other people’s safety and health, or it is something that is out of your control such as external rules or personal constraints, consider letting it go. Maybe letting them wear gumboots to the beach is not such a big deal? Giving up some of our control can create the perfect opportunities for kids to learn through natural consequences.


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