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How to Stay Calm When Your Child Won’t Listen

We’ve all been there. You ask your child (very nicely) to do something. You then repeat your request a second time. By the third time, you’ve had it and you lose your cool. While it happens to all of us, it isn’t the best way to respond. As a Certified Discipline and Guidance Coach, I am happy to share the best strategies to help you stay calm when your child won’t listen.

A young girl is covering her ears and grimacing as her mother firmly scolds her in the background.

How do I stay calm when my child won’t listen?

If there is one things that I have learned about parenting, it’s that the only thing that you can control is your own behavior.

And as soon as you lose your cool in any situation, two things happen:

  1. Your child feels that they are in control of your behavior.
  2. The child learns to react to frustration with yelling.

Now, I am guessing that you really don’t want either of these situations to occur.

So, what do you need to do?

Well, you need to maintain control of your emotions in order to stay in control and model how to stay calm (even when you are frustrated).

That being said, in my experience as a mom of two strong-willed children I know that both of those steps are easier said than done.

I also work as an elementary school teacher, so my entire job is basically staying calm when children aren’t listening 😉

Ok, not really….but some days it does seem that way.

Related: Enjoying Motherhood [How to Love Being a Mom When it’s Hard]

So, what are some practical tips and strategies that you can use to stop yourself from freaking out when your child seems to be ignoring what you are saying?

Let’s take a look…

8 Strategies to Keep It Together When Your Child Isn’t Listening

Mom speaking calmly to child trying to get her to listen,

1. Anticipate that your child will not listen the first time.

As adults, we forget that listening is a learned skill and that it takes time and practice to be a good listener.

The expectation that all children will listen to what you say the first time is not realistic until they have learned to be good listeners.

When you go into the situation knowing that you may have to repeat yourself or use a variety of communication skills, then you give yourself and your child the space to learn and grow together.

2. Remove yourself from the situation before you explode.

If you feel you’re on the verge of losing your cool and reacting in the heat of the moment in a way you might later regret, one of the best things to do is remove yourself from the situation.

If you yell and your kid yells, then it just becomes a power struggle of who can yell the loudest and the real message of what needs to be communicated gets lost. 

Say something to your child like, “I am feeling really frustrated right now and I need to calm down, I will be back in a minute”. This will give your brain and blood pressure a chance to relax and then you can think clearly about how to move forward in the situation.

With older children, you can leave the room, but if your child is a toddler, simply move to a spot where you can still see them but are not close to one another. 

3. Take a deep breath (or three)

Another technique that works well when combined with removing yourself from the situation but can also be used separately is to simply take a few long, deep breaths. 

Laura Markham, who wrote the book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid”, refers to this as “stop, drop, and breathe”. 

Regulating your own emotions is a vital skill to learn and it can be as simple as taking a few long, deep breaths before responding. After all, if you can’t regulate your emotions as an adult, how can you expect your child to do the same? 

Doing this in front of your child is a positive way to begin showing them how they can manage their own emotions too.

Any deep breathing works here but if you need a guide, try “box breathing”. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and pause for a count of 4 before inhaling again. Repeat at least 5 times and see how you feel.

Mom in living room taking a deep breath to stay calm.

4. Commit to using a speaking voice.

One of my favorite things to remind myself when I begin to get escalated is this:

“A loud voice silences the message”

And it is absolutely true.

Yelling is a horrible way to try to get your child to listen, because they will almost immediately shut down and stop hearing anything you say.

In fact, I have seen a lot of children cover their ears when parents or teachers raise their voices.

Promise yourself that you will maintain a calm tone of voice when speaking. If you feel like you can’t, then see #2 above.

5. Evaluate your own communication skills.

It can be pretty easy to say, “My child doesn’t listen!”

But are you truly communicating in a way that they can understand? Are you speaking clearly in terms that they can comprehend? Are you being direct in your requests and letting them know not only what to do but when? Are you making eye contact with them when you speak? 

As we discussed in my guide to chores for kids, sometimes kids and adults have different expectations. If you ask your kid to take their shoes to their room in the middle of a show and they said okay, in their minds they might think it’s okay to do so after their show, not understanding your expectation is to do it right now.

6. Set your child up for success

What is more difficult to do is to reflect on your own actions and see if you are setting your child up to be a successful listener.

Ask yourself:

  • Are you in the same room as your child?
  • Did you remove, pause or turn off any distractions (like phones, tablets or tv shows) before you started speaking?
  • Are you making eye contact?

So, maybe you realize it’s not your child’s fault they didn’t listen the first time because you didn’t create an environment that supported good listening before you began talking.

Once you realize this critical step is your responsibility, then it helps to take some of the blame off your child and helps you to be more realistic in your expectations.

A distracted child will not listen, and it’s up to us to remove the distractions so that they can listen before we get angry with them.

7. Keep it light.

I know this sounds crazy, but it works.

A child is much more likely to listen when someone is being funny or silly.

Let’s say that you want your child to put their shoes in their room.

You already know that they probably don’t want to get up and do that right now.

Instead of just saying, “Go put your shoes in your room!”, sit down and act like you are trying to put them on and they won’t fit.

Be obnoxious and over the top about it.

No doubt, they will be curious about what you are doing…and that’s when you have their attention.

They might even say to you, “Hey, those are my shoes!”

When you respond with, “Oh my gosh, you’re right! I thought they were mine because they weren’t in your room. Can you please run and put them away?”

Now, you’ve kept the entire situation light hearted and fun, and maybe even bonded a little bit with them instead of it turning into an argument!


8. Keep your expectations age-appropriate

You cannot expect your 3 year old to respond to these methods in the same way as older children. Young children have big feelings and strong emotions that they don’t quite yet have the emotional regulation tools to handle it all. 

Temper tantrums and angry outbursts can often be a symptom of a child who can’t find the words to communicate their feelings or if they feel like they’re not being heard – it does not mean they are a bad child. Their emotional brain is still developing and there are true biological reasons why they may not be responding in the way you’d prefer. 

And when you do communicate, keep things on the child’s level. A toddler is not going to sit through a 5 minute lecture. 

By using these strategies to stop yourself from yelling when your child seems to be ignoring you, you will feel much more in control of your skills as a parent.

You will also be demonstrating these strategies to your child and teaching them how to stay calm when they are frustrated, which will be helpful to them throughout many situations in life.

One more important thing to note – remember to reward the good behavior! If you notice your child begins to take deep breaths before reacting, be sure to acknowledge this progress and let them know. Positive reinforcement goes a long way when it comes to fostering communication and improving listening skills!

Related: How to Instantly Improve Your Child’s Behavior with No Effort

An image of an upset young girl covering her ears, not listening to her mother in the background. Image text reads "5 tricks to staying calm when your child won't listen".

By using these strategies to stop yourself from yelling when your child seems to be ignoring you, you will feel much more in control of your skills as a parent.

You will also be demonstrating these strategies to your child and teaching them how to stay calm when they are frustrated, which will be helpful to them throughout many situations in life.

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