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It's a pretty point blank question. In case you don't know what selective deafness is, here's an example:

Me: "Hey Timmy, help me carry the laundry?"

Timmy: "..."

Me: "Hey Timmy, I really could use your help; there is a lot to carry"


Me: "Hey Timmy, I just saw the ice cream truck stop outside"

Timmy: "What?! Can we go!? Can we go!?"

I don't have any children named Timmy but you get the idea. What do you do in those situations?

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After you find the cure for this, you'll be in a good position to solve world peace. Are we talking about school age kids here, or would you like an answer for all ages? –  Jax Mar 17 '14 at 11:29
Any age you've dealt with will suffice. I know I had selective deafness growing up but until I became a parent, I didn't know how annoying it really was. –  ChristopherW Mar 17 '14 at 12:36
You just replayed my childhood. –  Tim Post Mar 17 '14 at 18:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Get their attention first before you say anything else.



Until you get through to them, say nothing else. Try not to give away whether this is an icecream moment or a laundry moment. Surprise them by sometimes getting their attention with a laundry basket in your arms and saying "when I've got this laundry put away, do you want to have icecream together?"

If you can't get through to them with just their name, use a louder or sharper tone, or touch them. If they don't appear to fully engage (the grunt or yeah they learn a few years before puberty) don't start talking. Keep working on engaging them. Now if you never have anything fun on offer they will never engage, so be worth hearing at least once in a while.

Finally once you have them engaged ("look at my face!" I used to say to the kids) you can ask for help or offer the fun activity or whatever else. And make them say "no thankyou" or "I'd rather not" or "I need to finish this first" or whatever is an appropriate way to demur. (If there is no appropriate way to demur, then don't ask, tell.) You will know they heard.

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This is a great idea. Didn't even think of trying that. –  ChristopherW Mar 20 '14 at 8:08

Have their hearing tested?

My son was accused of selective deafness by his kindergarten teacher. Guess what, a doctor found that he was partially deaf. Blocked Eustachian tubes had filled his inner ears with liquid reducing his hearing.

After surgery, and grommets and 6 months recovery, there were still some issues. In a noisy environment, he had a hard time hearing. We had another test done (a figure-ground discrimination test) and found that his brain had a hard time processing sound when the background sound was raised.

Once you have eliminated a medical reason, then you can look for a behavioural one.

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This is good but she does not have medical issues. We visit the otolaryngologist frequently for check ups and despite a middle ear infection every now and then, she is fine. –  ChristopherW Mar 20 '14 at 8:10

One idea is to ask the child a question to check whether they have heard or not.

Pappa: Timmy, Can you take out the trash?
Timmy: ...
Pappa: Timmy, Can you take out the trash?
Timmy: ...
Pappa: Timmy, Did you hear what I said?
Timmy (in a perfect world): You said to take out the trash.

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Treat it the same way you would treat it if Timmy looked you in the eye and said "I won't do that." He is hearing you and refusing to obey - it is plain disobedience. If one of my kids was playing a game or reading a book and they pulled this trick, and I was pretty confident that they really did hear, I'd probably take their game or book away for the rest of the day. Or go over, turn the tv off or get in front of them where they can't ignore me, make them put their book down, and tell them, "do you know what you are doing? You are trying to disobey by pretending not to hear. Now you get to help carry the laundry and then do the dishes on top of it." Expect obedience and never tolerate disobedience.

I like Chrys' idea, and that should be a general parenting pattern. Our kids should love the sound of our voices. To them it should trigger thoughts of encouragement, fun, listening to their problems, words of love and affection.

Still, even so, they might try this trick. Kids test those boundaries; they have to, because they do not know how firm or what parameters the "obey" rule has. To discover what "obey" looks like, they have to run little experiments. It's up to us to make "obey" a very consistent concept; deviations not tolerated. Never say "oh, well, I'll just do it myself." That might be easier in the short run, but encourages a pattern of disobedience that will bite you hard in the long run. Once the order is given (and a request from a parent is an order), it should be obeyed.

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