How to Get Your Kids to Listen: 3 Tools to Elicit Cooperation

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Good Inside" by Becky Kennedy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do your kids ignore you when you tell them to do something? Do they talk back or attempt to negotiate?

Clinical psychologist Dr. Becky Kennedy is also a mother of three, so she knows the struggle. She recommends using connection, validation, and playfulness to make your interactions less confrontational and more effective.

Continue reading to learn how to get your kids to listen with these three tools.

How to Get Your Kids to Listen

Kennedy argues that, if you believe your child doesn’t listen to you, the issue isn’t listening; it’s cooperating. In other words, your child isn’t complying with your requests. When your kid doesn’t cooperate, it’s likely because they’re feeling disconnected from you or because you’re asking them to do something they don’t want to do. The latter is the nature of parenting, but there are ways to make your requests less confrontational and more engaging. Yelling, for example, only makes your child less likely to cooperate because they’ll be in fight or flight mode.

Kennedy shares her advice on how to get your kids to listen, recommending three tools that will help you elicit cooperation from your child.

(Shortform note: Kids aren’t the only ones who can have a hard time listening. The authors of Difficult Conversations argue that one of the most common complaints about difficult conversations with adults is that the other person isn’t listening. When we feel others aren’t listening to us, we tell ourselves they’re stubborn, don’t care what we have to say, or don’t understand it. But people stop listening when they don’t feel heard. The way to get someone—whether a child or adult—to listen to you is to put a genuine, concerted effort into making sure they feel heard first.)

Tool #1: Connection

Kennedy recommends building your connection with your child before asking her to do something. Regularly spend at least 10 minutes one-on-one with your child (each individual child, if you have more than one) with no devices or distractions. Observe her play, describe what she does, or mimic her activities. Don’t ask questions or give her instructions—this is her time!

(Shortform note: Other parenting experts explain why one-on-one time with your child strengthens your connection. In 1-2-3 Magic, Phelan writes that having quality one-on-one time shows her that you enjoy her company. This tells her you not only love her—you also like her.)

Tool #2: Validation

Acknowledge that you’re interrupting your child’s activities or that you’re asking for something they don’t like. Then, Kennedy suggests involving your child in the decision-making. For example, give her options, like tidying up alone or with your help, or brainstorm ways to make the task more agreeable, like playing music while tidying up.

(Shortform note: In How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish agree that validating your child’s feelings fosters cooperation. They add that focusing on problem-solving instead of authority gives your child space to think of her own solutions. This fosters her autonomy and your connection with her.)

Tool #3: Playfulness

Kennedy also suggests sprinkling some silliness onto your asks, especially the less enticing ones. For example, close your eyes and say that if the task is done by the time you open them, you’ll run around the room in a victory lap.

(Shortform note: In The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel and Bryson explain another benefit of playfulness: It helps your child integrate with other people. Showing your child how fun and rewarding it is to be in a relationship with you—her first and primary relationship—will encourage her to build healthy relationships with other people, as well.)

How to Get Your Kids to Listen: 3 Tools to Elicit Cooperation

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Becky Kennedy's "Good Inside" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Good Inside summary:

  • A parenting manual to help you build a positive relationship with your child
  • Why time-outs, rewards, and serious conversations don't "fix" kids
  • Strategies to deal with ten common parenting challenges

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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