Kids who don’t listen: How to respond without losing your cool.

Kids don't listen

As parents, we all have our days, don’t we? When nothing seems to go right—the teen won’t unglue herself from the TV to do her homework, the 6-year-old won’t touch anything on his plate for dinner, and the toddler won’t take a bath without splashing water to all corners of the bathroom.

These are the days that drive us to do something we know we shouldn’t, but can’t resist. I’m not talking about overdosing on peanut-butter fudge ice cream, I’m talking about yelling at our kids.

Most parents admit to yelling at one time or another, and sometimes every day. But just about all of us feel pretty guilty afterward. This isn’t how we pictured parenting our little “angels!” In fact, according to a 2009 New York Times article, yelling may be the new spanking. While most parents nowadays are reluctant to spank, we resort to yelling when strategies like timeouts and counting 1-2-3 don’t work.

The problem is that yelling may actually be harmful to your kids. Not necessarily the noise level so much as the words we say—which are most likely spoken in anger or with sarcasm. What’s more, while a young child who was not listening may snap to attention the first few times you yell, as she ages she’ll learn to tune you out. So like timeouts and counting 1-2-3, yelling isn’t an effective long-term solution for problem behavior.

So what should you do when your little one is tempting you to blow a gasket? A good sign that you need to gain control is if the words on your tongue are, “Because I said so, that’s why!” Give yourself permission to just walk away and take a few deep breaths. Then, in a calm voice, state a clear consequence your child will face if he doesn’t comply.

A best-case scenario would be avoiding hot-button issues in the first place. For instance, if your child refuses to pick up toys day after day, communicate the expectation and consequence in a calm voice, at eye level. You can say, “Any toys that aren’t picked up by lunch will be put away for the week.” This saves you from nagging and prevents a power struggle—as long as you follow through so your kids know you mean business.

If you do lose it in front of your kids, the best thing to do is to come clean. Explain to your kids, “Sometimes I get frustrated and yell, but I’m working on it.”

None of this comes easy—it takes practice and patience—but it’s worth it in the end. Soon, those tough days will no longer get the better of you, and you and your family will be better off for it.

What You Should Do Next:

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About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.