Like most toddlers, my 3 year old has to be told to do this or not do that over and over again. Rather than hoping she learns over time through the inevitable trouble she gets in for not listening, I was wondering if there are techniques for developing and practicing good listening skills outside the context of disciplinary threats.

  • Are you providing consequences for your child's (mis)behavior that go beyond "disciplinary threats"? Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:26
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    Yes. I'm wondering if she will learn better if she can develop these skills in context that is less about "how do i avoid consequences". The first thing that came to mind is the game Mother May I. Teaches listening and obedience skills, but is also fun for kids.
    – kenwarner
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 17:49
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    Well, the thing is that you actually want your child to seek to avoid negative consequences by not behaving in a way that results in those types of consequences. If you see some really obvious avoidance behavior then you are probably not providing positive consequences to balance w/ the negative ones. Ideally you want your child to seek the positive consequences of doing what he/she is supposed to do. Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


To have your child hear you you need to have their attention. In order to have their attention you need to be in control of as many of their senses as possible, sight being the most powerful.

When we want to be certain that our children are paying attention and listening, we have them stop what they are doing and look at our faces (look into my eyes) as we speak.

That gives them time to detach from the activity they are currently in and guarantees that there is no excuse for not hearing what is being said to them.

Also having them repeat things back at help to ingrain what you are saying.

Remember, when they do the same thing over and over, despite being told not to. They aren't failing to listen, they are likely to be testing that your rules are always consistent.


Non-complaint behavior may or may not be related to one's ability to listen. Sometimes, a child listens and clearly understands the "rules" or expectations, yet chooses to not conform. The term "not minding" is a better description than "not listening" for these children.

However, listening skills are foundational for many (probably most) skills. Yet, children are expected to just naturally learn to listen. As parents/teachers we often say, "listen" or "pay attention" and expect our children to "just do it". We sometimes forget that listening is more than having sound pass through our ears and on to the brain.

A few years ago, I was introduced to a program called "Whole body Listening". I adapted many of the ideas to use with children who are easily distracted or ones with limited attention spans. I find the strategies are simple and provide a multifaceted approach to focusing and maintaining attention.

The concepts are developed around listen with the whole body. We introduce each body part and describe/demonstrate the optimum behavior.

  • Eyes: looking at the speaker's face and attending to objects as directed
  • Torso: sitting comfortably supported, not slouching
  • Hands/arms: in lap, not covering face or "fiddling" with toys/distracting items
  • Feet/legs: still, resting without distracting movement

I address any "non-listening" by reviewing the "offending" body part and describing, demonstrating the appropriate response.

Perhaps, focusing on listening skills in a positive atmosphere will generalize to "remembering" behavior rules too!

  • I think you've got a good point here but it sounds too scientific for me to really grasp... :-) Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 6:18
  • @Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Hope revisions help! :) Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 23:26
  • This is great for most kids, but I just wanted to alert everyone that listening can look very different for ADHD kids. For them, eye contact and not being allowed to fiddle can actually prevent listening. It is still important to help them find ways to listen without distracting others and in a respectful manner to the listener. Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 0:09

One thing that works very well for us is to let the child experience the direct consequences of her actions, or lack of actions, respectively.

For instance, if you want to go to the playground, give the order to put on shoes. If nothing happens, then you're not going. There are many situations where you aren't on a strict schedule and you can afford to spend the time to emphasize these consequences.

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