Ask Joanne: How Do I Get My Child To Listen When I Say No?

21/06/2009 11:12 | Updated 22 May 2015

Catherine writes:

My daughter is 16 months now and she knows what no means. But will she listen when we say it? Absolutely not. So how do you get them to listen when you say no?

When she does something that she shouldn't we tell her no. 99.9 times out of 100 she'll ignore it and do it again. We give her three nos and then she's out, which is when we remove her physically from the situation. She never kicks off about this and happily gets distracted by something else.

Is this par for the course though? Also, her determination is astounding. When she is toddling away from me and I call her back for some reason she completely ignores me to the point that I've wondered if she can even hear me.

God, this all sounds so naive probably. You know, when I was pregnant I wished for a child who would be independent and determined and now that I have got one I don't know what to do.


Here's life coach Joanne's reply:

Dear Catherine

Yes, totally normal. Your question has reminded me that when I was a child, my mother sent me for hearing tests because I wasn't responding to what she told me to do. Of course my hearing was fine, I'd just started zoning out the things I didn't want to hear. Ask your mum if you did this as a child. I bet you did.

When we say no to a child, essentially we're saying two things:

  1. Stop what you're doing
  2. Do something else instead

Which is a big ask from a child who's still only just emerging from babyhood. So you will make life much easier for both of you if you cut to step 2 and tell her what you want her to do instead. Your daughter has shown you that distraction works, so stick with that more.

If we say anything repeatedly to our children, then it becomes just a load of 'Blah blah blah' to them and they do stop paying attention. I know of one mother who was very quick to say no to her baby, and when the child started to speak her first words were 'No' and 'Stop that'. But she never actually did obey her mum. If you want your child to obey you, you need to do more than just say no.

As much as possible, tell her what you want her to do rather than what you don't. If you ration the nos she'll take more notice of them. When you feel yourself about to say no, ask yourself what you'd prefer her to do and tell her that instead. This'll make it easier for her to change her behaviour because you'll be giving her more options.

Do you want a totally compliant child who bows to your every whim? Actually, that would be quite handy sometimes, but also not much fun. Be grateful that she's got a spirited personality that'll support her well in life.

And also think about the things you say no to, and do pick your battles.

I hope this helps

Good luck


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