Selective Hearing—Tips for Getting Your Kids to Tune In

by Kristy Roser Nuttall


Sometimes kids really do seem like they have selective hearing.  They tune into key words relating to food, fun, and games while filtering out anything requiring too much effort like homework, chores, or not annoying their brother by poking him with uncooked spaghetti.

If I just whisper the words ice-cream, chocolate, movie, video game, or restaurant, it seems like my boys can hear me from anywhere in the house and maybe even from the trampoline in the backyard.  But if I’m telling them it’s time to clean up a mess or put laundry away or to stop arguing with each other—I might as well be that teacher on The Peanuts Movie producing garbled speech that sounds like I swallowed a bad recording of violin music for meditation.   Now I know that my boys do not have any hearing loss, so what is going on in these situations?  Basically, kids often pay attention to what they feel benefits them the most, and this attention can easily evaporate if they feel like they have to do something requiring too much effort.

So what should we do when we realize we’re being filtered?  Here are some tips that I have found helpful when I feel like my kids are not listening to me.

Instead of YELLING, try WHISPERING.  This totally throws them off.  They feel like you’re telling them secret information, and secret information has high value for kids. Parents also unintentionally look kind of funny when they yell, and according to my kids I look hilarious—and that leads to your kids smirking or laughing at you which will make you feel madder, and it’s a scary domino effect from there.  BUT, next time your kid has been poking his little brother twenty times, instead of yelling at him to stop, try getting down at eye level and whispering “Wow!  Check out your shoes–show me how high you can jump. . . .Now, show me how you can play cars with your brother.”

Keep it SIMPLE and SPECIFIC.  Short, sweet and to the point—Don’t overdo the instructions or give a college style lecture.  Instead of saying it looks like a tornado just went through here!  Somebody needs to help me fix this disaster area!  Try saying something like “Clean up time,” then “Books on the shelf” or “toys in the bins” “dirty clothes in the basket.” Or you could simplify it even more with one word instructions:  shoes, clothes, toys.   You could also just hold up a sign or a picture as a visual cue.

FOLLOW THROUGH.  Remember the part about kids not listening unless they sense it affects them?  Well it’s true—if kids don’t feel like you are really going to follow through with what you say, then they will tune you out.  Stay away from risky ultimatums like “if I step on one more of your Legos on the floor, I’m going to throw them all away” or “If you don’t do your homework, we’ll send you to a military school in Siberia.” Stick to consequences you are actually comfortable with following through with like “if you leave Legos on the floor, then you have to earn them back by doing extra chores.”  Or “if you don’t do your homework, then you lose screen time privileges.”  Have them repeat this consequence back to you so that you know they understand—and then most importantly, follow through.

Be PRESENT:  Basically, be an example of a good listener yourself. Really take time to look at your child and think about what they are saying or asking.  Get down on their level and make eye-contact with them. If you are always distracted on your smart phone or laptop and throwing out “sure that’s great” to your child’s pleading question about the right color for a ninja belt, the location of their Barbie doll pool party invitations, or whether or not you like their amazing new break dancing moves, then they will get discouraged, and when they get discouraged, they definitely won’t be very good listeners themselves.

Consider MARTIAL ARTS Training:  Honestly, getting involved with martial arts has been a huge boost for my boys’ listening skills.  They know that they have to respond immediately to their Master Instructor with a “yes sir” in Taekwondo class, or they will be doing push-ups or sit ups as a consequence for being distracted.  I actually use that consequence at home sometimes too, and it’s quite effective. They also know that if they do focus in class, they can learn amazing kicks, sparring moves, and self-defense strategies.

Is selective auditory attention ever an issue in your home?  What strategies work for you when you want to get your kids’ attention?

Check out for kids camps and activities that will boost your kids’ listening and focus power.

Martial arts camp activities in the Houston area for beginner and intermediate levels:

Summer Camp Activites for Children’s

Art Summer Camp for Kids

Taekwondo and Self Defense classes in the Houston area:

Self Defence Weekend Classes in Houston



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