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How to improve the way we talk to our children so they will LISTEN

The way we talk to our children has a significant impact on their learning and ability to listen to us.

As parents, we are their role models and our little people will learn from and copy how we act and behave.

Children love to mimic us, from dressing up in our clothes, singing to our favourite songs to repeating exactly what we say both to them and to our family and friends.

Research suggests there are generally three types of communication styles used by parents:

Aggressive: yell a lot using attacking words

Passive: mutter soft, cautious words and tones

Assertive: firm, consistent, clear and positive

Well we all want to think we adopt the 3rd all the time.  However, I’m sure you have covered all three at some point in your parenting life!

Make some easy changes to how you communicate with your child to improve their listening skills:



Removing NO and DON’T - How often do you find yourself saying ‘Don’t drop that glass’ or ‘No running indoors’ or ‘Don’t slam the door’. Often, you’ve planted the seed and your child will drop the glass and slam the door. Switch it up with some positive phrases like:

‘Hold onto your glass tightly please George’

‘Only walking inside please Lily’

‘Close the door quietly please Max so not to scare the dog’

This type of communication may take a little more thought but, through practice, it is well worth the effort.



If someone uses your name, you are much more likely to listen and it is no different for our little people.

If you are asking your child to do something use their name first to get their attention. Always wait until they have stopped what they are doing, as children can often only concentrate on one thing at a time for example:

‘Archie’ now pause and wait for him to stop what he is doing - then ‘please put your shoes on, we are going out in 5 minutes’.



I’m sure you don’t, but some parents use words that ridicule or shame their child. ‘You’re acting like a big baby’ ‘You’re a naughty boy’ or ‘I was ashamed of you today’.

This type of language achieves very little except leaving your child feeling worthless. Positive and kind words give your child more confidence, resulting in more happiness and positive behaviour.

If you do need to talk about something your child has done that you are unhappy with, try asking them to tell you what happened. Often, they already know you are disappointed, so it is important they come out of this conversation knowing you are proud of how they have spoken about it. Praise here is really important like ‘I like the way you have been honest with me, thank you’ or, ‘you’ve tried really hard to tell me how you feel, well done’.



Connect with your child using eye contact. Stop shouting up the stairs or from another room and speak to your child directly. You may even need to get down to their level to engage eye contact.

Some children don’t like eye contact or find it difficult to hold eye contact throughout a conversation. If this is your child, use their name until you get their eye contact and then gently remind them, with their name, every time they get distracted to reengage their listening skills.

It is important that they give you their attention, and you should model the same behaviour for them.



Never try to drown out a yelling child with yelling back at them. It is our natural human instinct to mirror behaviour but, by shouting over your child, it will only make them yell more frequently and listen less. Talk when they have calmed down.

If you regulate the volume of your voice appropriately for the majority of the time, raising your voice in an urgent situation should not be ignored. They will sit up and take notice because it doesn’t happen all of the time.



When you want your children to cooperate with you, it is far easier if they can understand why they need them to do something and how it is to their advantage to do so. They need to see the importance of following your directions.

For example:

‘When you get dressed, you may come down and watch TV’

‘Which coat would you like to put on, the black one or your denim one?’

‘When you finish your homework, you can play on your iPad for an hour’

‘Which book would you like to read, this one or that one?’

Adopting words like ‘when’ and ‘which’ makes the child feel as though they have choices, even though there is no room for negotiation. Using these words works far better than using ‘if’ words.



Engaging your child to help solve problems helps build their confidence and allows them to take responsibility.

For example, you want your child to put away his toys. Rather than ‘don’t leave your toys there’ try saying ‘Archie, think about where you can put your toys so they are in a safe place, and come and tell me when you’ve decided’.



Children under 11 years old have trouble following too many directions all at once. As adults, we can relate to that when we ask someone for travel directions and are then bombarded with instructions we promptly forget. Give your instructions in small chunks one or two at a time.

Teachers use this approach to keep their class running to time, giving clear instructions and adding a time limit onto the end focuses the class immediately.



If you are sick of the sound of your own voice, look at your routines. Are you breaking out of routines regularly and interrupting your child constantly? Review the times when your child knows what is expected as all children thrive on routines.

For example, set a time to do their chores in the afternoons or after dinner. When they are playing, they don’t like to be interrupted, just as much as we don’t when reading a good book.

If your child knows what is expected and when chores should be completed, you shouldn’t have to nag to get things done.



How often have you made a decision about something and then you or your partner have not stuck to it?

Your child might not like the choice at the time, but they will understand your request and won't bug you about changing it if you've never changed your mind. When you are not clear and leave open ended threats, there is a good chance you will never regain control unless you become really firm all of the time.

Also, don't sweat the small things. If you really have to take the iPad away for a week, make sure it is actually for something really significant where you feel your child will learn to change a behaviour or action you are unhappy with.



If you really want to get your child to open their mind and think more, you need to ask them more open-ended questions to avoid the yes / no syndrome.

This communication style provides an invitation for your child to express their ideas and feelings. For example, instead of 'did you enjoy base jump today?' you could ask 'what was the best part of going to base jump today?'. Hopefully they won't reply with 'I don't know' but if they do there is a good chance you've tried this communication style before but not listened and responded properly to your child's reply.

It is so important to make sure they know YOU are listening to them.



You really have to make sure your child knows that they have your full attention and you care enough to listen to them. If you are in the middle of something and your child is trying to tell you something important don't pretend to listen.

Instead, promise them a time when you can hear them and be sure to follow through. Then be clear that you show that you are interested in what they are saying by using enquiry-based listening. Let them speak, then respond with communication that encourages more conversation from them. For example, you could say 'how did that make you feel?' or 'why do you think that happened?'



We live in a world where we are time poor. You rush around working or getting your child to after school clubs, play dates and parties busy, busy, busy. You think you are giving your child the best life and you are disappointed when they do not demonstrate they feel the same!

The bottom line is most children misbehave and their listening skills get worse when they don't get enough one to one time with their parents. You don't have to 'schedule this time into your routine' take it by chance, the drive home from school or before bedtime.



Try not to interrupt or correct your child when they are telling you a story.

Your child will lose interest in sharing their feelings with you if you shift away from their story and use the time to teach them a lesson.

Listening skills develop through conversation

Open and comfortable communication with your children develops confidence, self-esteem, good relationships with others, cooperation, closeness with you and, importantly, allows them to learn to listen.

Fostering a positive relationship with your child takes time and effort and good communication skills so talk with your child as much as you can.

Remember, good conversation is a two-way street. Talk with them and listen to what they have to say; listening is just as important as talking.

The SPR Juniors Programme

SPR Juniors Programme is a highly active P.E lesson resource pack containing video and lesson plan resources that allow staff to deliver high quality Physical Education at the push of a button.

Learn More

The programme for SPR Juniors is designed to offer each primary school a balanced education programme focusing on nutrition, fitness and mindset delivering Strong Powerful Resilient Juniors!

Primarily, the programme provides progressive P.E. lessons for years 3 to 6 which help children improve their core fitness and develop motor skills that will underpin their sporting performance.

Each school will also have access to our SPR Junior Resource Centre. This is an online library for teachers to access nutritional guidance to support their curriculum plus it includes fun goals and milestones for pupils to reach that will support their nutritional awareness.

These resources are designed to be used as part of the weekly parent newsletter.  They help parents understand, in more depth, what their children are learning in relation to nutrition and fitness and give them the core information on how to encourage their children to continue their SPR Junior’s programme at home!