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How to Get Children to Listen!

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Rushing across mid-town pedestrian traffic, I dodged tourists, hotdog vendors, and office workers milling about in my rush to arrive on time for my afternoon seminar.

Arriving at my destination just as the speaker opened the session, I grabbed my pen and notebook. I quickly glanced at my phone for alerts, notifications, and updates on my next appointment. Of course, the glance at my iPhone resulted in a rapid-fire of quick responses to emails that I felt required my immediate attention.

When I redirected my attention back to the speaker, I noticed they had placed a Google doc slide on the projection screen. I flipped to the written materials that accompanied the presentation and jotted down a few notes. The presentation I was attending on "B Corps and B Certifications" was of great interest to me as it aligned with my personal and professional mission.

However, despite the valuable information and excitement of the speaker at times, my mind wandered between my last phone call, client interview, or sprung ahead to meal planning for the evening.

During the seminar's 10-minute intermission, I spoke with other attendees. I later realized I had not received business cards for one person, and I could not recall either of their names.

Arriving home that evening, I was met by the usual comforting scene of controlled domestic chaos. However, before I began an inquisition into why my children failed to follow earlier requests, instructions, and demands, a flash of honesty came to me. I realized I had not done such a great job that day of listening or paying attention myself.

So the quickest 3-ways to get your children or students to listen involves honesty, shared blame, and acceptance.


Whether in the role of parent, coach or teacher, adults often lament, "...the kid just doesn't listen..." or my favorite "...if you paid attention...then..."

These particular phrases are embedded with blame and are intended to shame the child and hopefully prevent future inattentiveness.

But what if that exact phrase or tactic were deployed upon adults?

Let's say for example, that the seminar speaker from earlier in the day had looked up from her notes and said directly to me, "Ms. Saunders, if you put your phone away and pay attention to what I'm saying, you will not miss vital information? An adult is less likely to use these tactics. However, it's a common tool many parents use to remind children to pay attention.

Classrooms are theaters of learning. Classrooms are also vast spaces where a child's mind runs free. While instruction is occurring, the child could be cataloging memories or interactions from days, weeks, or even just an hour ago. Boredom is also a common cause for wandering attention and failure to recall.

We get children to listen when we allow honesty to show us that all people, children, and adults alike struggle with attention. Attention at all times to all matters is nearly impossible. Also, attention to the details an adult finds important may directly contradict what the child deems as important to them.

In our quest to be great parents, let us remember to take a beat and reflect on the content and delivery of our words before they take flight. How it lands in the ears and the subconscious of our children makes a lasting impression. We honor our children by showing them the respect that we often think is reserved only for adults.

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