For Mums

What To Do When Your Child Won’t Listen

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As a parent, be it as a stay-at-home mum, work-at-home mum or working mum, we all agonise over our parenting choices. However, when makchic explored ‘mum guilt’ during a recent #MamaSecrets session, over and over again, a familiar refrain appeared: mothers shared their guilt over losing their patience and their temper when their children won’t listen. “I can’t control my emotions. I don’t know how to handle tantrums from my baby. I am a loser,” a mum lamented. Another mum shared her guilt over not being patient enough, while yet another shared her regret “when I yell at my daughter or lose my temper altogether.”

As a mother of two little ones, I understand the frustration we face when our kids don’t listen. I’m sick of hearing myself repeat the same instructions over and over. ‘J, leave that alone. Put on your shoes. Eat your toast. Stop hitting your brother.’

Often, it feels like our efforts are in vain and no matter how many times we repeat ourselves, it’s like water on the feathers of a duck. The words are not sinking in and translating into desired behaviour. We end up angry and exhausted. Sometimes we even shout and smack and feel guilty for losing it yet again.

So I’ve decided to pause, reflect and draw on what I’ve learnt as a teacher and from my experience as a Mum. Below are some tried and tested strategies to use when they seem to be pushing all our buttons.

Connect before correct

We are all busy juggling work and chores and kids. On #MamaSecrets, mothers shared about being too tired for their kids after a full-day of work. “We don’t sit down together for meals enough. That’s when we usually share or catch up on news.” Others regret not being able to provide the kind of attention each child needs.

But if you can, carve out some time to intentionally connect with your children. If you have more than one, they might need individual attention even if it’s just for 10 minutes daily. Be all there and laugh, talk, read, play and love them. I for one am guilty of forgetting to intentionally bond with my children. But the truth is, kids need that genuine connection for them to trust you and care about what you have to say.

There’s a famous quote that goes, ‘children don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’.

Create a sustainable routine

Develop a routine that works for your family. It may change from time to time, but trying to be consistent around what happens when, builds a rhythm that your family will get used to. This helps kids know what to expect. For example, my son knows that after lunch he gets 30 minutes of play (I use a phone timer and he enjoys setting it up) and once it buzzes, it is naptime. Knowing what to expect makes them feel safer by giving them structure and often reduces protests.


Of course there will be times when they do protest. If they are younger, expect the tantrums and the whining. But when that happens, don’t react immediately except to keep them safe. A mum shared that she wished she could turn back time when she said things “out of anger in the moment”.

Instead, pause. Wait. Give your child space and more importantly give yourself space to breathe and think with your head and not with your emotions. Count to 10 if you have to. Tell yourself that you can handle this calmly.

When you are ready, empathise. Remember that you are the parent and they are the children. They need you and you can be what they need.

Empathise (physically and mentally)

Come to their level both physically and mentally. Bend down so that you are at their eye level. Take their hands in yours, look them in the eye and breathe. When you are both calm and if your child is old enough to talk through things, talk to them. Try to understand where they are coming from. Perhaps as a two-year-old, he gets caught up playing and goes overboard. Or as a 10-year-old, she just wants to be like her peers. Sometimes we forget how little they are and how much they are trying to process. When we try to understand them, we show respect and love for them. When they know this, they will be more likely to listen to what we have to say.

Give constructive feedback

Now that you have heard and understood their point of view, express your own thoughts. Let them know clearly the effects of their behaviour and what needs to be done instead. Remind them that they can make good choices and if they have done it before, refer to those instances. Look out for opportunities for them to succeed and be sure to notice and affirm them.

go out and play

Engage and challenge

Contented kids are more likely to follow instructions. A great way of keeping them happy is to get your child engaged in activities that he or she loves. This goes down to knowing our kids’ personalities, interests and needs. If you have a child like mine, he needs time to play outside. Something about being in nature engages and calms him. For some, music is their passion, for others, sport. Whatever it is, you know them best and if you are unsure, take time to observe and experiment. You’ll figure it out soon enough.

Setting boundaries

Another mum shared her inability to control her emotions when her kids tested her limit. As parents, we have to set realistic boundaries for our children. We can teach our children that there are consequences for their actions by being consistent in doing as we say. It is hard but a tip I have learnt is to set the boundaries clearly and well before a blow out, and you start to get angry. We all know terrible things happen when we lose our cool so it’s best to discipline while you are still calm, instead of waiting for them to rile you up.

Plan, reflect and choose your battles

Have a plan. Don’t worry, it’s not as hard as you think. Take 15 minutes every Sunday night (or any other day) to think about one or two things you would like to work on this week as a parent. It could be reading one book a day with your child, or setting specific consequences for actions, or engaging them in play they enjoy. While there are many things we want to achieve, sometimes it is overwhelming for both parent and child. Choose instead to focus on fewer areas to be more effective. At the end of the week, reflect and modify if necessary. Remember, we are all a work in progress!

Finally don’t take their misbehaviour too personally. Often, this testing of boundaries is a part of their development. And while it may not always be pleasant, we can do our best to give them what they need as they grow- lots of genuine love, respectful discipline and opportunity to explore their interests as curious little individuals.

Kristy Tan is a mother, teacher and occasional writer. Together with her husband Sam, whom she has known since Standard 4, she tries to find joy in the madness that is raising two boys under three.

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