Over and over again, I have parents ask how to get your kids to listen without yelling. Kids don’t listen. Parents repeat themselves again and again. Tensions mount and then they yell. Kids get upset and feel as though the parent has been mean. The parents are beyond frustrated because they feel they’ve approached the situation with consideration, been ignored, and then been pushed to their limits. In this article, you will find effective strategies to improve kids listening as well as powerful strategies for becoming a calmer parent.
Whether it’s via email or through Facebook, the number one issue parents ask me for help on is how to get their kids to listen without yelling.
When I read their issues, I feel nothing but empathy. When I’m exhausted, I can’t complete a task and the kids are coming at me nonstop, I struggle to stay calm.
This week was a perfect example of when I yell.
Over the past two weeks, my oldest and youngest have been the sickest they’ve ever been. The baby got hit with a brutal virus and was in pain. My six-year-old got sick a few days later and ended up with both the baby’s virus and strep throat.
Between a screaming baby, a daughter who wasn’t eating and barely drinking, and three walk-in clinic visits, I had virtually no time for my five-year-old son. At first, he was reasonable. At night I would curl up beside him, kiss the top of his head, and thank him for his patience. But as days turned into a week’s time, he became increasingly agitated. It was as though he had been cooped up and ignored for too long.
He began jumping on furniture, throwing toys, and screaming like a banshee. For the life of me, I could not get him to quiet down.
I resorted to my old ways.
“You’re driving me crazy!”
One of the most humbling parts of being a parent is understanding that, though I may intellectually know the best course of action with my child, I fail often.
One morning as I attempted to hang the delicate laundry to dry, my little guy began jumping up and down on the couch yelling like a chimpanzee.
My heart raced. I had told him to use a quite voice more times than I could count and I had had it.
“STOP YELLING!” I screamed.
It was the moment I realized how off the rails my parenting had gotten. I needed to get back to proactive and positive parenting. I needed to stop yelling at my kids and also needed to focus on getting them to listen better.
How to get your kids to listen without yelling.
It’s best to break down how to get your kids to listen without yelling. The first part of this goal is to stop yelling.
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How to stop yelling at kids:
Start with self-care.
As someone in the trenches of parenting, self-care can feel futile. I don’t have the money for costly spa visits and/or a babysitter. As cliche as it is to say, you cannot pour from an empty cup. Being a calm parent starts with taking time away from being constantly touched, refereeing squabbling siblings, or being asked for five more minutes of Fortnite.
The truth is for self-care to be effective, it needs to be very regular and, therefore, inexpensive.
To start, figure out what you would like to do that is inexpensive and can be done frequently. This can be going for a walk with a friend, reading at a coffee shop, or attending a yoga class.
Then, schedule it in. That may mean asking your parents for help, getting your partner to agree to watch the kids a couple of nights a week, trading childcare with a neighbour, or finding a gym with childcare.
It helps to identify your triggers.
After you have mapped out your self-care, take the time to identify your triggers. Then, brainstorm how you to avoid these triggers (I have a downloadable resource on this here).
Here is how to stay calm in the heat of the moment.
Now that we’ve looked at prevention, the third step on how to get your kids to listen without yelling is learning how to react calmly.
The two most effective strategies I know of are to:
- Take a big inhale and an even bigger exhale. Dr Becky Bailey, the author of Conscious Discipline, recommends your exhale exceed the length of your inhale to take you out of the fight or flight response. When our children are triggering us, we get into a state of stress. We need to take a brief moment to tell ourselves we are okay and to re-centre.
- Tell your child how you feel and how you’re calming yourself down. For instance, “I’m feeling like I’m going to yell. I’m breathing now. Give me a moment, please.” Read more here.
Related reading: Stop yelling at your kids using one simple trick
For those times that you do end up yelling.
The final step is for when you do inadvertently yell. Apologise for your outburst. This both makes amends and models the behaviour we want to see in our kids. Forgive yourself and strive to do better next time. Read more here.
Related reading: How to Get Your Kids Out The Door In The Morning Without Yelling
This is how to get your kids to listen (without yelling)
The unfortunate truth is that kids won’t listen all the time. As a result of their free will, curiosity, and differing priorities, there are no strategies to get your kids to listen all the time. That said, there are many strategies that will greatly improve how well your kids will listen.
Start by parenting proactively.
Tell your kids what is expected of them ahead of time. For example:
- They will be more likely to turn off the TV after one TV show if you told them from the beginning they could only watch one show.
- When heading to a restaurant, they will behave better if they know the wait might be long. They can colour while they wait. And, they have to stay seated the whole time you’re there.
- Before going to the movie theatre, let them know you won’t be buying candy or popcorn this time.
Make sure their basic needs are met.
Kids are much more likely to listen when they’re well rested, fed, and have had the chance to burn off energy. Also, children are much more likely to comply if they feel connected to us. As little as ten additional minutes, a day to kick a soccer ball, play a board game or colour a colouring page with your child will greatly improve his behaviour. Read more here.
Get their attention and wait for eye contact. Then speak calmly.
Read more in this infographic here.
Tell kids what they can do rather than what they can’t.
It’s easier for children to follow directions when they know explicitly what to do. For example, “Sit on your bum,” is easier to understand than “Stop running around.” Read more here.
Follow through on your expectations.
One of my biggest shortcomings as a parent has been giving too many warnings. If you have set out a rule, be clear and consistent. This may be by taking away a ball if your child is throwing it in the house, turning off the TV for the rest of the day or taking your child up to her room when she’s hit her brother. Read more about time-ins here.
Read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk.
In it, you will find loads of additional insights on how to get your kids to listen without yelling. One of my favourite tips came from this book. You can read about it here.
I’m taking better care of myself. When I feel triggered, I am taking a deep breath before responding to my kids. I am also prioritizing time with them to do puzzles, play card games or ride bikes outside. Their listening has improved and, as a result, I feel less tense.