How to Help Your Child be a Good Listener - Total Education Solutions

How to Help Your Child be a Good Listener

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Does your child ever have difficulty listening to you and following instructions? You may find this especially difficult around the holidays, right after they get home from school, or during times that your child is out of their typical routine. As a parent or caregiver, you may find yourself often repeating instructions or raising your voice to get your children to listen. However, teaching a child to be a “good” listener goes beyond just getting their attention; it is about changing your own behavior and building a foundation for effective communication. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a scientifically proven approach, can help teach children the necessary skills to become active listeners. In this blog post, we will explore five practical strategies on how to help your child listen using ABA techniques.

Why Doesn’t My Child Listen to Me?

There are many reasons that a child may not be listening at any given moment. Understanding the why is important for determining how to help. It’s possible that your child may not understand what you’re asking them to do or how to do it. They also may not have heard you in the first place because they don’t yet respond to their name being called, or they were busy playing with their favorite toy or game and they weren’t ready for you to deliver an instruction. This is referred to as a skill deficit. On the other hand, it’s possible that your child heard you and understands how to do what you’re asking, but they’re just not motivated to do what you’re asking them to do. This is what’s called a performance deficit. The 5 strategies below can assist with both skill deficits and performance deficits.

Strategies to Teach My Child to Listen Better:

1. Use Clear and Concise Instructions:

Keep your instructions simple and age-appropriate, and deliver them one at a time. After giving an instruction, allow your child time to process it before talking again (i.e., 5-10 seconds or more, depending on their typical processing time). Break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to facilitate understanding. For example, instead of saying, “Clean your room,” break it down into smaller tasks one at a time, like, “Put your Legos in the box,” or “Make your bed.”

2. Be Direct:

State what you would like your child to do rather than asking them a question. For example, say, “Turn the TV off, please.” instead of “Do you want to turn off the TV?” or “Can you turn off the TV now?” This avoids giving them the opportunity to appropriately respond with “no.” Additionally, it’s best to tell your child what they can or should do instead of what they should not do. You can give them choices of what they can do in order to give them more of a say. For example, instead of telling them to “Stop jumping on the couch,” you could ask them to keep their feet on the floor or give them options of places they can jump (e.g., “You can jump on the trampoline or floor cushion”). 

3. Ensure they are Attending:

Ensure your child is calm and ready for your instructions before giving them. Children, especially those that are neurodivergent, may show us that they’re attending in a variety of ways, such as briefly stopping what they’re doing, orienting their body toward you, verbally responding to their name being called, holding up a hand gesture, or giving you eye contact. It is helpful to get down on your child’s level rather than standing over them to ensure they’re ready for your instruction and can hear you. When your child is engaged in a preferred activity, such as watching their favorite YouTube video, it may not be the best time to deliver an instruction if you don’t obtain their attention first. 

4. Implement a Reinforcement System:

Although it would be great if children were intrinsically motivated to listen and follow their parents/caregivers’ instructions, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In ABA, positive reinforcement is widely used to encourage desired behaviors. Children (and adults alike) are much more likely to learn a new skill or do something less- or non-preferred if they’re given a payoff. You can create a reinforcement system where your child earns rewards or privileges for listening to and following instructions. This could be something as simple as verbal praise, a sticker chart, or a token system where they can collect tokens and exchange them for agreed-upon preferred activities or items.

5. Provide Feedback/Prompting:

Providing feedback or praise consistently, contingently, and immediately following behavior is crucial for teaching a new skill. Provide immediate positive reinforcement when your child follows instructions or demonstrates good listening skills. This can be as simple as, “Good job!” or specific praise like, “I’m proud of you for cleaning up your toys so quickly.”Conversely, if your child does not listen, you can offer them immediate corrective feedback using a neutral tone of voice. Explain simply and calmly why their behavior is not appropriate and what alternative behavior is expected. 

If your child needs assistance with learning a new or difficult skill, it’s helpful to give them prompting at first or as needed if they’re struggling. Prompting is a technique used in ABA to provide additional cues or guidance to help a child complete a task or respond to an instruction. Depending on the child’s needs, preferences, and assent, prompts can be physical (e.g., gently guiding them), model (i.e., showing them how to do something or use a video model), gestural (e.g., pointing), verbal (e.g., telling them the correct response), proximity (e.g., placing the correct response closer to your child or remaining in close proximity to them), or visual (e.g., using visual schedules or pictures). It’s important to utilize the least-intrusive, most effective prompting and fade prompts over time so that your child does not become “prompt dependent.” 


It can be difficult to keep calm when your child doesn’t listen. After all, you’re only human, and being a parent/caregiver is one of the toughest jobs out there. Remember that in order to change your child’s behavior, you often have to change your own behavior first. You’ve already made a positive change in the right direction by looking into resources to help your child. 


  • Morris C, Conway AA, Goetz DB. A Review of Effective Strategies for Parent-Delivered Instruction. Behav Anal Pract. 2021 Jan 4;14(2):513-522.
  • “Applied Behavior Analysis” by John O. Cooper, Timothy E. Heron, and William L. Heward

About the Author

Rachel Rolando, M.Ed., MAT, BCBA, is a graduate of James Madison University. She has been a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) for 5 years, dedicating her career to empowering neurodivergent children and their families to learn and increase socially-significant behaviors. Rachel is passionate about helping individuals find their voice (whatever that may mean for them) and enhancing their quality of life.


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