Ask Dr. Phelan: Getting Kids to Listen

Ask Dr. Phelan: Getting Kids to Listen

Today we have a question from Stephanie, a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Q: How do I get my child to listen?

She says, “One of the biggest questions I get from my parents is, what is the best way to get your child to listen, and stop arguing or trying to get the last word in? What would you recommend?”

1-2-3 Magic defines listening as one of two things:

  1. You want kids to listen to you when you’re trying to get them to stop doing something obnoxious like arguing, yelling, whining, fighting, teasing, or screaming.
  2. You want to get the kids to do something positive like go to bed, stay in bed, do their homework, or eat their dinner.

How do I get my child to stop their obnoxious behavior

As some of you know, dealing with obnoxious behavior is what 1-2-3 Magic calls “parenting job #1.”

Get the kids to listen by using counting. When children are misbehaving, say, “That’s one.” That’s a verbal and a visual warning that they’re out of line. Use five seconds in between counts. If they hit a “three,” there is going to be a consequence.

The key is to not say anything after the count. Don’t say, “That’s one. Come on, now I’m getting tired of this. Look at me when I’m talking to you. Did God put you on this earth to drive me crazy or what?” That absolutely ruins it.

Instead, count, be quiet after the count, and know exactly what you’re going to do at three.

How do I encourage my child’s good behavior?

With positive behavior, you want kids to listen when it’s time to eat, do their homework, etc. This is what we call “start” behavior, and for start behavior, you want to create routines. In 1-2-3 Magic, we have seven tactics you can use to create routines.

For homework everyday, you want a routine. For up-and-out, you want a routine. For bedtime, you want to have a routine. And you can use the seven tactics described there to set up the routines.

Discuss your routine with your child first Get their input. They can have some say in how bedtime is going to be handled, for example.

Then rehearse the routine. Some parents get their children in their pajamas on Saturday afternoon at 2 or 3 o’clock and rehearse the bedtime routine so kids know what’s going to happen.

With routines, you want the kids to start them if you can. You don’t want to say, “It’s time for bed” yourself. You’d rather that when the time comes, they initiate the activity.

What does “listen” mean?

It means either preventing obnoxious behavior or encouraging positive behavior, and in 1-2-3 Magic, we have two different ways of dealing with that.

To submit your parenting question for Dr. Phelan, visit

February 15, 2019
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