Parents are often asking how to get their kids to listen and respect their request to help out or to take care of basic responsibilities. Many times parents will say,” Why do I have to ask Johnny to pick up his shoes seven times before he will listen to me? Why can’t he just respect me when I ask him to do something?”

In essence, these parents are asking that their kids listen. They want to be able to ask their kids once and have their children respond.

But often children do not respond by honoring a parent’s request. Some just ignore their mom or dad. Some say, “I’m busy. Wait.” Others may be more defiant, simply stating, “No!”

The result is often the same, as the child is not listening. As time goes on, if parents do not develop an effective strategy, the pattern will worsen and parents will end up asking over and over again. Typically, most parents get very frustrated with kids’ not listening like this, and ultimately it ends up in an ugly, unpleasant exchange.

So what’s the secret to getting respect for a request?

There are three keys to getting your kids to listen when you ask them to do something. It doesn’t depend upon their personality, although certainly, kids have different personality styles. Some will respond more rapidly, and others will take a little bit of time. However, the formula remains the same regardless of your child’s temperament. Don’t get seduced into believing that you have to dance around your child’s temperament, or you will always be dancing!

Many times parents will fall into a pattern of using very controlling and demanding language with their kids. It might sound like this:

“Pick that up.”

“Put that away.”

“Get your homework done.”

“Stop hitting your brother.”


Would you like to be spoken to in that way? I doubt it. If you want your kids to respond to a request, make sure that it sounds like a request and not a command. If you’re asking them to pick up their toys, make sure that you’re asking. If you want them to do their homework, ask. If it’s a time when you need to be more firm, and you have to get out the door, say it like this: “It’s time to get your shoes on because we have to go to the doctor’s appointment now.”

Avoid the command, “Get your shoes on now.” If you fall into that pattern, you likely won’t like what evolves when your child moves into those teenage years. It can get really ugly when your words come back to haunt you!

This “asking” will not ensure success. It just ensures that you speak to your kids in a manner that models the way that you would like to have them speak to you.

If it’s really important, say it once…and only once.

Rather than making the request over and over, just say it once. If you are in the habit of asking seven times to get your kids to do something, their brain learns to expect seven requests.

If you want them to respect the first request, make only one request. If you end up harping and nagging on them, their brains will begin to expect that. They come to learn that you saying something once only means you will say it again…and again…and again.

Know that it doesn’t work to repeat your request…if you want respect for your request…unless you want to spend most of your time constantly repeating everything you say just to get every little chore done around the house.

Bottom line: Say it once and then…

Rely upon actions to teach respect for your words.

When you follow words with more words, the value of your words becomes diluted. If you just keep throwing more and more words out there, your children learn that your words don’t mean anything. How would you expect your kids to know that you mean business if you’re willing to repeat the same request a dozen times? It just can’t work that way!

The secret here is to find a consequence (that requires your action) and trust that that consequence will teach your kids to value your words.

For example, if you want your daughter to cut off the TV and come to dinner, you ask once. Perhaps you wait five minutes and then you go out to where the TV is, cut it off, and walk out of the room without saying a word.

Let’s imagine that you’re in the grocery store, and your son starts bugging you for a treat. You tell him “No” once, and then you go on with your shopping. If he wants to have an upset, let him have his upset…but your “action” is to walk away from his whining and upset.

In every situation, you want to remain respectful. You will never feel bad for maintaining your cool. State your position once, and then follow with decisive action.

If you follow that simple formula, you’ll see that your requests become honored with increasing consistency. Just remember, however; all of this is a learning process. Don’t expect perfection immediately. You have to allow your kids the opportunity to learn, and that may take two to three weeks. Be patient, and let the respect for your requests build over time.

But let’s also be real.  If you have a history of dealing with a challenging child, or a teenager who is quite defiant, you will likely need more tools for your toolbox.  While patience is required, there are a couple of fundamentals that can make this easier in the next few weeks.

Realize:  You don’t control your kids.   But you can control what they care about.  This is your leverage.  Read more about how to use leverage here:  The Role of Leverage in Parenting.