20 Phrases to Use When Your Child Doesn’t Listen

child doesn't listen

When your child doesn’t listen, it’s time to listen to God.

God teaches us many things through parenthood and one of the best lessons, although sometimes hard to stomach, is that our kids are like apples; they usually don’t fall far from the tree.  THEIR behavior is often a reflection of OUR behavior. They can be the best mirrors that reveal how WE are operating and where we need to stretch ourselves a bit to learn and grow alongside our kids.


We all head into parenting WANTING to raise our kids with integrity, but often times, once they become toddlers, we find ourselves in a pretty negative pattern of parenting that includes more controlling than connection, more condoning than teaching, and more criticalness than empathy.

Looking to the true character of Jesus can help us get back on track to root our parenting in patience, compassion, and positivity.

In my own life, God used my three-year-old extremely strong-willed daughter (who seemed to always be misbehaving) to teach me some incredible lessons.

One of them being that no matter how many ways I tried to teach my daughter how to be a respectful, kind, little human, it was all in how I acted, communicated and treated her that was teaching her the most.

Over time, I opened my heart to what God was teaching me through the hardship of a “hard to handle” toddler and replaced my harsh, negative, threatening tone with a neutral, problem solving, empathetic, encouraging one (this took TONS of practice and I still am a work in progress).

With a little patience and faith, changing my communication style not only helped my little girl’s behavior improve dramatically, but also caused me to feel so much more confident with the way I was raising her.

Speaking to her with compassion, respect, kindness, patience and gentleness felt in line with the way Jesus led his disciples.

The lesson I had learned was impactful. Talk to mini-humans with integrity, the way you’d like to be talked to and results will happen naturally.

This was a lot easier in theory, than in real life application, so I learned how important it was to adopt the motto “Grace over Guilt” and lean on a Jesus Guided Parenting model … some days we hit it out of the park as parents and other times, we fall short … we ARE human after all.

These 20 Positive Phrases are a great place to start if you’d like to make a Fresh Start when your child doesn’t listen.

20 Phrases to Use When Your Child Doesn’t Listen

1. “What do you need to remember?”

Take a break from: “Be careful.”

Example: “What do you need to remember when you play at the park?” or “Please move slow like a careful turtle when walking on top of that wall.”

Explained: Kids often ignore when we say this same thing again and again. Instead, engage their critical thinking skills and have them re-state the important precaution. Or give them specifics on what you want.

2. “Please talk softly.”

Take a break from: “Stop yelling!” or “Be Quiet!”

Example: “Please talk softly or whisper,” (said in a whisper voice) or, “I love your singing, AND I need you to outside or in the playroom to sing loud.”

Explained: Some kids are naturally louder than others. If they have trouble speaking softly, show them where they can go to be loud and also use the power of the whisper. In combination with a gentle touch and eye contact, whispering is an incredibly effective way to get kids to listen.

3. “Would you like to do it on your own or have me help you?”

Take a break from: “I’ve asked you three times, do it now!”

Example: “It’s time to leave. Would you like to put on your shoes by yourself, or have me help you?” or “Would you like to hop in your car seat by yourself or have me put you in it?”

ExplainedMost kids respond incredibly well to being empowered. Give them a choice and their critical thinking skills override their temptation to push back.

4. “What did you learn from this mistake?”

Take a break from: “Shame on you” or “You should know better.”

Example: “What did you learn from this mistake?” or “What did you learn and how will you do it differently next time, so you don’t get in trouble at school?”

Explained: Focusing on motivation to change behavior for the future will get you much better results than placing shame on past misbehavior.

5. “Please ______________.”

Take a break from: “Don’t!” or “Stop It!”

Example: “Please pet the dog gently” or “Please put your shoes in the closet.”

Explained: Do any of us go through our day telling waitresses, baristas, friends, etc. what we DON’T want? No, right? We wouldn’t get the best response if we said “Do NOT give us a whole milk latte” or “I don’t want the chicken.” That form of negative communication isn’t perceived well and puts undue strain on relationships. Instead, try asking for what you do want.

6. “We are on cheetah time today and need to move fast!”

Take a break from: “Hurry Up!” or “We are going to be late!”

Example: “We’re on racehorse time today! Let’s see how fast we can move!”

Explained: Be sure to let them be on turtle time sometimes! We could all use a healthy dose of slowing down, so provide mornings where everyone is relaxed & kids can move slow.

7. “Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes?”

Take a break from: “Time to go…now!”

Example: “Do you guys wanna leave now or play for ten more minutes, then leave?

Why it works: Kids love to be in charge of their own destiny, especially power kids! This takes a tad bit of proactivity, but it works like a charm! Give them a choice & they’ll respond much better when you say “Okay, 10 minutes is up, time to go.”

8. “Let’s add that toy you want to your birthday list.”

Take a break from: “We can’t afford that” or “No, I said NO TOYS!”

Example: “I am not willing to buy that, would you like me to put it on your birthday wish list?”

Explained: If we’re being honest, we often CAN afford the $5 lego at checkout, we’re just not willing to purchase it. But then buy a $5 almond milk latte from Starbucks. Instead of blaming our finances and creating feelings of scarcity, own your limit, then offer ideas to help them learn how to get it (birthday, earning money, etc.).

9. “Stop, breathe, now ask for what you want.”

Take a break from: “Stop whining!”

Example: “Let’s stop, breathe together, now try again to ask for what you want.”

Explained: Be sure to model this too. Keep repeating it calmly while breathing with them, till they can self-calm and change the way they’re talking.

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Wendy Snyder
Wendy Snyder is a Positive Parenting Teacher & Family Coach, helping families parent with great purpose and intention by creating healthy, respectful & cooperative relationships. She is a Certified Parent Educator of Redirecting Children’s Behavior (RCB) & The Joy of Parenting (JOP) and an advocate for families. You can find her at www.FreshStartFamilyOnline.com. Grab her free guide to parenting with firmness and kindness HERE  and register for her FREE Power Struggles Master Class HERE