I hate to raise my voice, but there are certain situations where no matter how or what I say, my kids won't listen. I'm not talking about hearing what I say and deciding not to do it, they simply either willingly or non willingly ignore my voice as if I was talking to a wall. (boy almost 6, girl almost 4)

I was diagnosed with ADD, and I can relate when people tell me - you don't hear me? I was talking to you and you didn't hear a word I was saying (I was doing something in hyper focus, and literally didn't hear a word)

Is that what happens here with my kids too?

Here are a few situation where I can say something a million times in pleasant tones and will get complete ignoring from their side

  1. They are in the bath playing, I'm asking them to get out / wash their head etc.

  2. This is the worst - the TV is on. Can't get ANYTHING out of them, it's like there are in a different universe. I can tell them that Santa is here and brought them all their wishlist and they will not even turn their eyes. They literally don't hear anything when the TV is on.

  3. My son is drawing something / playing the Legos


Now, I know they say "don't yell, don't shout, they won't listen, it just making it worse, don't be emotional and take out your frustration with life on the kids"

But I'm not doing it emotionally, it's done practically and without anger, without any frustration, just because the kids simply don't respond otherwise in these situation.

Is this ADD in play? I was like this as kid (And still sometimes, people can call me and I simply don't hear it if I'm hyper focused)

Or is this just normal kids behavior?

The doctor said that the kids are just fine, and they are doing very well in pre-K and kindergarten, (one teacher said something about my son regarding focus, but new school - new teacher - no problem, just at home)

So here is my question. If the only way I can get my kids to listen is either raise my voice, or do the "one, two, three" count (works every time) is that still wrong? I feel really bad with myself but otherwise my life will be just talking to myself, very nicely and respectfully and kids who don't take bath's / stay in it till midnight, eat only candy and never go to bed.

What should I do? I love my kids, I tell them that all the time, I hug them, I read them stories, I spend time with them and they show me a lot of love back. But there are times where the only way to get things around here is to just raise my voice. Not even yell, it's just increasing the volume so they will turn their heads to listen, not even the case of whether they want to do it or not, it's the mere event of them getting my words into their awareness, after that getting them to "listen" is even less hard to get them to just "hear me".

How do I get them to listen without raising my voice? Should I start wearing funny customs just to get their attention? should I use a funny voice? Should I use a clowns horn / stuffed animal? I'm open to ideas, but nothing worked until now...

(p.s. when shouting at them, they don't get scared or insulted or anything, they don't cry or stop running around the house at 9pm, or jumping on the bed, they just go like "oh, dad, you were talking? sorry, what did you say? we were busy doing something much more important like jumping like monkeys on the bed while your were whispering something about going to sleep" )

Is there a solution?

  • 9
    Stupid question probably, but have you tried getting their attention, switching off TV (REALLY important!), having them turn to you, and only then explaining what you actually want? Do NOT expect them to listen to you while ALSO doing other things... that is hard enough for an adult!
    – Layna
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 7:09
  • 2
    Have you tried making sure they look at you when you are talking? Eye contact is important too. Only a qualified psychiatrist/medical professional can tell you for certain if your children have ADHD, though considering one symptom is "a short attention span or being easily distracted", I would have thought someone speaking to them would be enough of a distraction. If it were anything psychological, I would presume it to be something on the autism spectrum "Problems with social interaction and communication". Though if it were that, they'd have trouble interacting with each other too probably.
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 19, 2015 at 10:07

4 Answers 4


Bothersome But Normal

OK, the good news first - this is totally normal. I've seen this in my kids and I've seen this in other people's kids. Lots. If this is the only indication of possible ADD/ADHD then I don't think you have anything to worry about (particularly as the doctor says they're ok).

You're In Control

So the first thing is to realise that you - with your partner, if you have one, and anyone else involved in their upbringing, have total control over your children's lives (within the bounds of law and ethics).

Although it's good for them to have their choices and preferences listened to, they don't get to impose their decisions on you. In this case their decision seems to be not to do as they're told until you've told them multiple times at high volume.

This approach:


should not usually be necessary. (Although if you're saving them from alien hunters in the Central American jungle then all bets are off).

Make a Plan

So what you need is a plan. Make this plan in discussion with your partner or anyone else majorly involved in day-to-day childcare (e.g. grandparents, nannies). You all need to be on the same page for this one.

So, working together, come up with some rewards for them doing what their told, and some consequences for them ignoring you.

The consequences should be things that you can actually follow through on, i.e. you're actually going to need to do them, at least once and maybe 4 or 5 times.

So make it things that aren't too serious - e.g. no TV or computer games for the rest of the day. That way it's practical for you to actually go through with it.

It's worth thinking of these things in advance rather than trying to do them 'on the fly', so you can make sure they're proportionate and sensible, and that the other people involved in childcare will actually help you to go through with them (e.g. if you say "no TV today" and then they get TV at Grannie's house later in the day, that's not going to work).

For rewards, I'd go for some small-but-immediate ones - e.g. my kids like pressing the button on the car key that remotely unlocks the car and makes the wing mirrors unfold - and some big ones that they can gradually work up to over time.

Switch Off The TV

When you want to give them an instruction, it's not worth trying to compete with the TV. You can switch it right off, or if you have a DVR then you can pause it (this is what I do), or you can mute it (not as good because the image is still distracting).

This may cause some wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth type noises from your kids, but I think it's worth it to get over the message "when Dad has something important to say, that's more important than the TV".

They Need To Listen

- you need to get them to stop talking, sit still and look at you,
- you need to get your own face at the same height as their face,
- and you need to get and hold eye-contact with them.

If they're sitting on the sofa then the easiest way to do this is to sit down next to them - if they're sitting on the floor then sit on the floor next to them.

For some reason, most children seem to find it easier to listen attentively when they're sitting down.

Be Concise, Be Clear, Be Decisive

So you've got their attention. Then you need to speak to them very briefly and directly, using language that's appropriate for their age.


Get your shoes and coats on guys, we're going swimming!


I think we might go on a trip, do you want to switch off the TV now or shall we watch for a bit longer? Mum thinks this but I think that. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, kids no longer listening at this point.

So I'm not saying don't ever ask their opinion (you should), I'm saying that it's only fair to them that if what you're really doing is giving them an instruction that you want them to follow, that should sound different from normal conversation. Because it helps them to understand that, on this particular occasion, they're being told what to do. Get their opinions at a different time, in normal conversation.

How Many Times Do You Want To Repeat Yourself?

So this is totally up to you. It's not something the kids get to decide. For me, I'm willing to say the same thing three times. The first time I'm just saying it, the second time I'm clarifying/reminding, and the third time I'm giving them a warning that they're approaching what I'd consider to be naughty behaviour:

Firmly: Elsa, put your ice skates on. This is the third time I'm telling you - if I have to tell you for a fourth time then (negative consequence will happen).

So you don't need to get loud or angry doing this - just make sure you have their full, undivided attention. You're explaining to them a choice that you want them to make: do they do the thing you want them to do without being asked/told any more times, or does the consequence occur? It's up to them.

You need to be totally consistent about actually following through with these consequences. If you say that x will happen, then x really definitely needs to actually happen, without fail, every single time.

The first time you do this, they will probably not believe that you actually have the power to make things happen in a different way to how they usually happen - you may hear cries of "but we always have TV". After a couple of iterations - 1 to 5 in the worst-case scenario, in my experience - they'll realise that you actually do have the power to impose consequences on them.

Tones Of Voice

You need to give them some clues as to how you're feeling which don't depend on volume.

Practise using different tones of voice, from 'enthusiastic request' through 'Mary Poppins giving an instruction' to 'I am astonished and severely disappointed that you're even considering not doing what I've told you'.


Pretty straightforward, this.

Small rewards: Everyone who gets their ice-skates on without having to be asked more than one time gets .... (small reward).

Large rewards: When I think you've listened really well, I'll put a sticker on your sticker chart and when you both get to 20 stickers we'll go to the theme park!

Counting to 3

Sometimes it can be helpful to find a way to stipulate that you want the thing doing within a reasonable time. I'd wait until the third time of asking to do this, and then go with something like:

Arna, if you haven't cleared up the icicles in your bedroom by the time I count 3 then (bad thing will happen).

1 (normal voice)
2! (stern warning voice)
3. (disappointment that they haven't done it and that the bad consequence will therefore have to occur).

Do give them a reasonable amount of time to actually do the thing - bearing in mind that any physical activity (coats, shoes, etc) is way harder for a little one than it is for a grown-up. Otherwise it's not fair and they'll be able to see that, so it won't create the improvement in future behaviour that you're looking for.

But They Really Can't Hear Me!

If they have no physical hearing problem (maybe check for this?) and no behavioural/psychological/neurological issues then they can hear you. They're just choosing to ignore you (sorry).

The 'Corpse Rule'

When you're telling them what to do - or even when you're just getting their attention, it works best if you give them instructions for things that are active rather than passive.

So the rule-of-thumb is that if a corpse can do it, it's something passive.

Less effective: Be quiet, guys. Stop talking.

More effective: Sit on your bottoms and cross your legs. Fold your arms and zip your mouths shut (make imaginary zipper gesture to own mouth). Now put on your listening ears!

Turnabout Is Fair Play

If you want them to listen to you, then you need to make sure that you make some time to listen to them. It's only fair. The more you can work on improving your communication with them, the better this whole thing will work.

Having 10 minutes at bedtime for you to cuddle them (each of them individually with siblings out-of-the-way if at all possible) and talk about whatever they want to talk about - no distractions, no TV, no anything except cuddle and chat - works really well.

Suggested Reading

Other Thoughts

Expect them to push the boundaries sometimes, that's normal too.

I've tried to present a range of possible tools here - you don't need to try and use all of them at once. Take what works for you. If you only do one thing then make it "TV off".

Hope that's helpful!


One thing I know with my kids and I've taken professional advice on this is that you have to get down to their level. Standing up and raising your voice is quite intimidating and distancing, however if you get on their level and get in their world (in a nice way!) you will find they are much more amenable to not only listening to you at that point but at others as well.

As for the TV thing, the TV needs to be paused or turned off if you need to say things. Young children generally don't have the capacity to not be distracted by TV when it is on, especially since the medium of TV particularly requires the watcher to "switch off" their awareness themselves. So it's not a punishment to switch the TV off for a minute while you talk, even though they may complain a bit, it actually makes it easier for you to be heard and for them to respond. Just warn them verbally first, or try talking and if they don't hear you say "I'm just going to pop the TV off only for a moment so you can hear what I need to say to you guys, ok?" and then do it. No punishment or raising voice required.


This is normal. I have same problem. I too don't pay attention when someone talks to me when I am watching TV and it annoys some people around me.To listen to someone talking to me I have to I turn the TV off. I know one of my friend's wife who has similar problem. I never disliked the person who yelled at me in louder voice. I learnt that I simply can't concentrate on more than one thing at the same time. Beisdes, many people like the fact that I give undivided attention when they talk to me.

It doesn't mean that your kid doesn't care what you say. It is simply their nature of concentrating on things. Try to cut the TV or youtube time for kids and try talking to them in normal voice and engage yourself with Lego toys, etc and you will find out that they listen to you when you speak to them in normal voice.

I personally think that they are too young to expect them to listen to you while playing Legos or watching TV. Good Luck.


Perhaps they have learned that nothing you say matters until you raise your voice, because that is the point where consequences start happening. I've often seen misbehaving children with a parent sitting in a chair just saying "Johnny don't do that. Johnny I said don't do that" ad-infinitum. To the child its just background noise. Children are very good at spotting patterns in behaviour and figuring out exactly what they can get away with in any given situation. Change the pattern and the kids will figure it out pretty quickly.

So say "Johnny don't do that" once. If Johnny carries on, get out of the chair, pull him round to face you and say "Johnny I told you not to do that. Do not make me tell you again.". Third time, consequences (time out, go to room, TV off, whatever).

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