Why Kids Don’t Listen

There is nothing more annoying to a mother than a kid who simply doesn’t seem to acknowledge we are talking or we want them to do something.

There is nothing more stressful than feeling judged by the people around us because our kids don’t listen. That’s when we make bad decisions as mothers, and that’s when we want to prove that whatever style of parenting we chose to adopt works FINE. We want our kids to be seen as functioning individuals of this society we live in.

We say our kids don’t listen, but this is just a stupid old saying. Our kids listen just fine. They just CHOOSE not to do what we ask them to. They can have various reasons, depending on their age and their feelings towards what we are asking them to do and how.
From our perspective, we have another truth: WE are not listened to. WE are disrespected. WE are ignored. WE feel treated badly.

Whenever we get triggered by our child disobeying us, the matter is much deeper than just the apparently trivial reason.

We go back to our own childhood and revisit how we were treated when we weren’t following listening:
What was the dialogue? Was there even a dialogue? Did we have a voice or we were silenced the moment we had an opinion?
How did we react as children? How did our parents react?
Were there consequences? Do we remember these?
Was there labeling on personality rather than behavior? (You are bad vs. you did something bad) How did that affect us?

How do all these factors contribute to how we react when our own children don’t listen?
I was stoked by this truth couple of weeks ago: “Everybody thinks they are the good guy.”

No child wakes up in the morning planning to hurt the feelings of his parents. No mother wakes up in the morning thinking how to lose more of her patience with the kids.

Every single child wants to be good. They want to be part of a functioning family. They want to feel loved. They want to cooperate. They try really hard.
Do you remember being a kid and trying so hard to be good and please your parents but nobody really saw it?
Just as much as every single mother wants to be good. We want to say “yes”. We want our children to be smiling and happy. We want them to learn a valuable lesson in a kind and calm way.

We try so hard, but sometimes it just all falls apart.

So how do we dance on this very thin line from intention to reality? How do we show up and do OUR part?

First, let’s talk about why children “don’t listen”:

We have unrealistic expectations from them

This is a broad reason, I know. Unrealistic expectations can range from speed of execution (how fast can you get dressed or wash your hands), quality of the result (how good can you brush your own teeth or choose your own clothes), self-regulation (how you can reasonably decide for yourself when you had enough TV or iPad time), and time management (how you know we must be out of the door at exactly 6:55 or how I am going to be late for my meeting because you take too long to settle at school).
When put down like this they sound a bit silly, right? Let me tell you about a recent occurrence.
One of the hardest times in my home is right before dinner. I’m busy preparing the food, then I start rushing everybody to get to the table RIGHT NOW and sit down and start eating the second the food is on the table so we can get over this and take a bath and go to sleep FASTER. I’m tired. They are tired.
My older daughter usually is at the end of her patience and tiredness by this time. So that’s when the negotiations start: “I can’t sit down without wearing my Elsa dress. But wait, I don’t have my perfect shiny shoes on. This food is too hot/cold/dry/saucy. I’m thirsty. I need a toy to sit next to me.” She would do anything but put the fork in her mouth at the speed that I expect her to have.
When I’m in the middle of it, I feel I am right.
But when she’s in the middle of it, she feels she is right.
So who is right?

We throw around empty threats hoping it will accomplish the immediate task.

If you don’t do … then …
How many times do we say this?
If you don’t eat you lunch, you can’t have any snacks.
If you don’t brush your teeth faster, you can’t read another story.
If you don’t take your medicine by yourself, you must go to the doctor.
Kids will remember this and know we will probably not follow through. One day they will say. “FINE, then I don’t need…” or worse, “My mom is threatening but she’s not doing anything.”

We use language that doesn’t resonate with them

Big words, long sentences. We drift off course and discuss past issues or hypothetical scenarios. Children are extremely emotionally developed, but they don’t have the capacity or patience to follow up on monologues. Of course we lose their attention.

We don’t treat our kids with respect

They are small, we are big.
We pay the bills, they are not.
We know more, they know less.
We have more experience, they still have so much to learn and live.

How many of us heard “as long as you live in my house…”, “as long as I’m paying for your food” or “when you have your family, you do what you want, now you do what I say”. Even if we never said any of these things out loud, most of us do not consider our children to be equal contributors in the family. Hence we don’t ask for their opinion.

We try to look good in front of other grown-ups

Social pressure is a huge factor in parent’s misbehavior. We feel judged by other mothers, we judge them in return, we offer sympathy and commiseration but rarely an empathic, respectful, and helpful response.
How many times we saw a mother in the park running frantically after her toddler who thought the parking lot was a much better place to explore? We thought: “Shit, I’m glad that’s not my kid. Maybe if he ate less sugar, he wouldn’t be so overactive. Maybe she just needs to be more present with her child. Poor thing… What a mess…”
So that mother not only has to be overwhelmed by her child, she needs to put up with the pity looks from other mothers or listen to the advice she never asked for. “My kids never drink juice after 3 pm. They would all run away if I did that” or “Having you tried cutting out dairy?” or “You know those toddler harnesses that look like a dog leash. They aren’t so bad after all. Better safe than sorry…”

We take it personally

We think that whatever they are doing, they do it on purpose to hurt us, our feelings, disrespect us, or make us feel bad. They punish us. This is karma. They’re out to get us.

We are asking them to do something when they are fully involved into a very important play

This is the equivalent of your boss coming into your office when you’re in the middle of working on something extremely interesting. First you won’t hear them, but secondly, you will get pissed that you got interrupted. Can’t they see you are busy?
Same goes with our kids. If they are into a game that is really interesting for them, they hate getting interrupted, even when that interruption is your invitation to have a snack or leave the house.

I know that not being listened to is the hardest thing. Really the hardest, but let’s all try to think that our kids are good little people.

They want to please and they want to be good. What can we do to help them succeed at doing that?


For a friend who recently lost an argument with a 3-year-old... Share!

Whenever we get triggered by our child disobeying us, the matter is much deeper than the apparently trivial reason. 

We try so hard to be good moms, but sometimes it just all falls apart. 

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