Why Does My Child Ignore Me

As parents, we help our children to learn what is acceptable behaviour and how to act in accordance with the values and beliefs we are raising them with. For all of this, we need to tell them how to act, what to say and do and how to be. The frustrating time comes when your child doesn’t listen.

We need our children to do things. It’s not about being controlling or overtly forceful. If the household is to run smoothly, if they are to get to daycare or school, to extracurricular activities or simply to a friend’s place, they need to be guided to do certain things.

Often this goes smoothly. But what about in those moments when our child does exactly what we’ve asked them not to do? You know those moments when you say “Don’t jump on the couch” and your child just goes and jumps straight on the couch! So frustrating!

A huge part of our role as a parent is communicating with our child. So how can we get our child to stop doing exactly what we’ve asked them not to do? It is possible! First, we must understand how the brain processes information.

What’s Happening In Our Child’s Brain?

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For example, let’s say you want your child to stop jumping on the couch and you say “don’t jump on the couch”. In order for them to understand what you have just said, they have to think of jumping on the couch. It’s the only way they can understand what you have said.

If I said to you, “don’t think of a green tree”, instantly you think of a green tree so that you can make sense of what I’ve just said to you.

Due to the structure and function of their brain, children will move towards a picture they have in their head. It’s like tunnel vision.

When you say “don’t jump on the couch”, you create this picture of jumping on the couch within their mind as their brain interprets the words you’ve said. Then they move towards this picture and go and jump on the couch. Your child has done exactly what you didn’t want them to do!

You end up feeling frustrated. You have to keep repeating yourself, they keep doing it, you end up yelling and everyone ends up in a bit of a mess! All very common and happens in every family. 

How Can We Help Stop This?

How do we get our children to listen and stop doing what we don’t want them to do?

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Stop Saying The Word “Don’t”!

As part of the role of a parent, we need to be directing our child about what they can and can’t do.

Instead of saying “don’t jump on the couch”, a more effective alternative is to say “go jump on the trampoline“.

When we say this we create a picture in our child’s mind of what we want them to do. They are then more likely to move towards that.

How should you speak if you do actually need to say ‘don’t’?

We need to keep our kids safe and healthy and protected. If saying “don’t” is essential then always follow it with what you want them to do, give them a substitute for their behaviour.

For example say things such as:

“Don’t run on the road, it isn’t safe. Please stay on the grass next to me and hold my hand.”

“Don’t hit your sister, it isn’t kind. Let’s use gentle hands.”

“Don’t slam the door, it will get broken. Close it gently if you want time to yourself.”

You reinforce the unacceptable behaviour, teach the alternative and redirect them to what you want them to do.

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Changing the way that we talk to our children makes a huge impact. After having read this blog I know you will become aware of yourself saying “don’t” quite often. The more you practice this, and the more you get in habit of doing it, the greater results you will feel and you will see. You’ll be feeling happier and not repeating yourself as often. Your kids won’t feel like you’re nagging all the time and everyone is enjoying family life more. Win-win! 

If you try this with your kids when your child doesn’t listen, I’d love to know how it goes. For more strategies to help your child listen have a look at the Talking To Kids Program.

Don’t forget to join me on Facebook for more practical parenting strategies

Happy Parenting!

    11 replies to "What To Do When Your Child Doesn’t Listen and Does The Opposite Of What You Ask."

    • DR

      These are really helpful ideas as a parent. Thanks so much for posting!

      • Heather

        Hi DR,

        No problem! Glad to help 🙂


    • Shivranjani

      I have this issue.. but its not just for negative sentence.
      Ex: when I say “please help me arrange the toys”. .she goes around scattering them.
      The same applies for the entire day..

      • Mary McGlohn

        You are not alone hun! My son is the same way.

      • Heather

        Hi Shivranjani and Mary 🙂

        It can be really hard. Not using “don’t” is just one part of the puzzle. There’s also making sure they’ve heard, understood and are willing to be cooperative with us as parents. How old is your daughter Shivranjani and your son Mary?


    • Kristin Cooth

      “Brush your teeth” isn’t a negative but he doesn’t listen. “Put your clothes on the hamper” also, no negative. This was taken almost word for word from another article but the situations were changed.

      • Heather

        Hi Kirstin,

        I don’t mention either of the examples of “brush your teeth” or “put your clothes on the hamper” in this blog article. Perhaps you are mistaken?

        I wrote this article myself and I don’t know where you think I may have copied it from. It’s based on a video that I recorded for an online parenting program I run. If you’d like to, you can share the original link that you’re thinking of.



    • nnnn

      The loo roll in the picture is hung the wrong way.

      • Heather

        Yep! I agree! I’m a forward rolling loo paper girl myself 🙂

    • Yesenia Torres

      This does not work with my 10 year old. Everything he supposed to not do, he does anyway. With no care or remorse and then flat out lies that he did such things.

      • Heather

        Hi Yesenia,

        Sorry to hear that about your son. It can be a bit harder with older children because they have heard us speak in one way for a lot longer than a 3 year old.

        Language is one part of the puzzle and with older children he may benefit from a variety of different strategies including language / communication skills, positive reinforcement, structured family rules agreed upon within family meetings and looking at the relationship and connection you have with him and how that is influencing it all.

        Unfortunately there isn’t one simple thing I can wave a magic wand at and help our kids listen, everything is part of a big picture.

        If you’d like to get in contact with me, we can chat through some strategies to help. Or join the Happy Mums = Happy Family Facebook group for some added support.



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