My Child Won't Listen To Me: Parenting Tips

Recently I was part of a large tele-summit for families where I gave a one hour class highlighting many of the parenting principles I teach. 

During this summit I had many many questions sent to me and didn't have time on the call to answer them all, so I am going to answer one of those questions today.


I have a daughter who frequently rages and manipulates. She is out of control almost as often as she is in control. When I talk to her about her behaviors she doesn't listen. She looks away and tries to manipulate our emotions. We tell her that her behaviors are bad and that she needs to be better so that our lives aren't so full of negative feelings, but she just doesn't get it. What are we doing wrong?

I would need more information to tell you exactly how I would handle the raging and manipulating. Is she just lying, or is she stealing, tattling, putting one parent against the other, or making excuses? What does her rage look like? Does she scream, pout, whine, have an attitude, or get violent? We will need to discuss that more another time. However, right now I can tell you some tips for getting your child to listen to you when you are discussing a behavior problem or a change that needs to be made.

To do this I am going to make up a scenario. Let's say my child has gone out of instructional control for not accepting a consequence and we are now talking about what went wrong and why it was wrong so that this kind of behavior won't happen again. There are two main ways parents handle this kind of situation.

Situation One: The Wrong Way!

The most common way looks like this: “Bonnie have you decided to calm down? Good, because you were really wasting a lot of my time. I have to take all this time with you to talk about your behaviors and don't get anything else done. Now dinner will be late because of you. Why do you always do this?”

Bonnie says, “I don't know.” and looks away.

Mom says, “Yes you do. Look at me when I'm talking to you...that's better.

Bonnie turns her head completely away from Mom, but Mom keeps talking. “You are being so disrespectful. You aren't even thinking about anyone else in the whole family. Don't you even feel bad about this?...Well.”

Bonnie says nothing.

Mom says, “You obviously don't really care about changing.....etc.”

Situation Two: Effective Communication

This second type of communication is much more rare, but a lot more effective.

“Bonnie, you look like you are feeling more calm and are ready to talk. Is that right?”

Bonnie says, “Yes” and looks away.

Mom says, “Bonnie, because you are calm I will be able to listen to anything you have to say. However, you are not looking at me right now. This action tells me that you don't want to talk to me and that maybe you are not calm. If you are calm and want to be in control now, you need to look at me. Please turn your head toward me.”

Bonnie turns her head toward mom but still keeps her body pointed away from mom.

Mom says, “Thank you for looking at me Bonnie, now I can see that you are ready to follow instructions which will make our conversation much shorter. A while ago you didn't accept your consequence for going out of control. (At this point review the steps to accepting a consequence, which can be found in the book Parenting A House United.) Accepting that one consequence would have only taken a few minutes of your time. How long has it taken to go out of control and have this talk?”

Bonnie says, “I don't know. Longer?”

“You have been upset about the consequence for an hour now. Where you happy during this last hour?”


“Do you remember how to disagree appropriately?”


“If you would have chosen to disagree appropriately with me instead of get angry I would have listened and maybe even changed my mind on the consequence. Then you would have chosen to be happy. You can always disagree appropriately.” Says Mom.

Bonnie says, “Can I disagree appropriately now?”

“Yes, of course.” says Mom.

Seven Tips For Conversing With A Reluctant Youth


  1. Focus on how the actions effect the child, not on how they effect you

  2. Keep your questions short and to the point (no lectures)

  3. Bring the conversation back to the skill which they had a hard time with (in the case above it would be the skill set for accepting a consequence.)

  4. Look them in the eyes (you need to connect with them to keep everyone calm and focused on the conversation.)

  5. Describe what is happening and what it teaches you about parenting them more effectively. (or what the action communicates to you.) Keep focused on the point; which is to understand the situation and what motivates the person to change and learn.

  6. Seek to Understand (Really care about what they are trying to tell you with their actions while still being firm and communicating deliberately.)

  7. Give them a skill they can use to problem solve similar situations in the future. Practice the new skill.

Really Important Note:

If the youth will not stay calm in the discussion or will not look at you when you are talking then you should not continue to try to have the discussion. The child is not ready. They need to be able to follow basic instructions like looking at you and be able to talk calmly and openly back to you.

I know for some youth this is very difficult, but they can learn in time. Ask simple questions and give multiple choice questions if they are not comfortable talking about their behaviors and emotions in order to get them going. Make sure they feel you are a safe person to talk to. Don't judge or laugh at them. Help them analyze and make a plan for the future so that they don't have to go through that experience again.

If the child starts raging again or has signs of an attitude problem describe their body language and then pre-teach them about what they are supposed to do to fix the situation. If they can't respect you enough to comply then tell them you can't talk with them about it until they are calm. Never talk to a child when you or they are not calm. It does no good.


Rachel K.'s picture

I have a 6 year old boy who lately has been acting out. And it's been over the last year since we had our daughter. He has been the center of our attention for 5 years, so we understand that a part of him may be jealous, but it's gotten really bad. We have to ask him multiple times to do something, by then we are yelling at him, which I know isn't good because they just shut down. He feels sometimes that he can boss us around and tell us what to do. He cries at the drop of a hat especially when he doesn't get his way. We know one of the problems is that his Grandparents let him get away with a lot when he's at their house, and we've asked them to stop and please abide by the rules we set for him, but they won't. We take things away from him when he's bad, like his tv, games, toys, etc. He is in school a 1st grader. Also with the fact of the new baby, I do try to spend time with him, before she was born we would have "mommy and me" days, and we had a little bit of financial struggle after I had my daughter so we really didn't get to out like we used to, but we have gotten our stability back so I am trying to do that more, we go out and talk he seems fine, but as soon as we get back home it's right back to the way it was. I am just at a loss as what to do with him. Any advice or how I should handle the situation would be great! Thank you!

Cee's picture

@Rachel K. Wondering how things are, now 5 months down the road? What solutions have you discovered?

You are right that he is probably responding to the big changes in his family - each time a new baby comes into a family there is a significant adjustment that the whole family feels and responds to. Building the relationship with your son will help ease this transition, but so will having a consistent way of handling problems. Having a set plan that everyone understands in our home has helped to decrease the emotional outbursts, the power struggles and general feelings of frustration. Practising being calm, pre-teaching, corrections, using the 4 basic skills... it is changing our home! Teaching Self-government will help so much.

As far as the grandparent issue, I would suggest that children are so smart - they understand that there are rules that are specific to their behavior in different settings or situations (ie: at school vs. at home vs. at a friend's home.) The fact that Grandma and Grandpa aren't consistent in how they respond to problems doesn't mean that he can't learn that when he's with Mom and Dad - this is how things happen. When you respond in the same way each time - calmly, explaining what just happened and what should have happened, practise it the right way and follow through with your established consequences... your son will have less anxiety compared with not knowing which of his favorite things mom's going to take way this time... he knows just what will happen and you become a safe person for him. Teach him to disagree appropriately and he will have a voice and know that you will listen and seek to understand his perspective.

Jennifer 's picture

My daughter has just turned 14,the older she gets the more manipulative she is becomming when i try and get her to do things around the house,homework just general day to day things you expect a 14 years old to do .. Im emotionally exhausted . She talks to a councelor at school to try and help her become more motivated to be sosial etc part of her frustration i think its because she is lonely.

shes super shy you see. 

I feel overwhelmed today with her at times i feel like running away from my responsibility,i cant but i just want to express my own dispair .. 

David Eggertsen's picture

@Jennifer Have you read the book Parenting A House United? Or have you considered getting the Implementation Course or the Support Group? Teaching Self-Government can help you! It has certainly helped me and many others.

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