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Categories: Parenting

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer provides advice to a mom with a 3 year old who won't listen.

“My 3 year-old daughter will not listen to me. She won’t even respond to a simple request like “would you like orange or apple juice?” It’s so annoying. I have to repeat myself and stop what I am doing and go right over to her and stand in front of her. Sometimes I even grab her face to make sure she is looking at me as I speak. If she is like this at three what will sixteen look like?”

Purposefulness of the Behaviour

I sense that your daughter enjoys the extra attention she receives from you through your constant reminding and repeating. She likes that you are “staying busy” with her over the “listening issue”.

It also appears the situation may be moving into a bit of a power struggle as you go from being a bit annoyed to actually feeling angered by her silence. This power struggle is seen in your going to her and taking her by the face to make her listen.

Eliminating Payoff

We don’t want children to learn that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” lest they also learn to be squeaky! In other words, don’t give any attention to the misbehaviour. If you do you’ll be training your child to misbehave in order to get your time and attention.

We want the exact opposite of this. We want to stay engaged and give our attention when children are acting in ways that we’d like to see more.

How do you eliminate payoff? First, stop repeating your requests. It is the child’s job to listen and they will if they know there is no additional time and attention forthcoming. And remember that “no” is also a decision. If they don’t answer you can assume they don’t want anything you are offering.

Here’s how this might play out:

Mom: Would you like apple juice or orange juice?

Daughter: (no response)

Mom: Would you like to pick your drink or should I?

Daughter: (no response)

Mom: I see you’d like me to pick (serves the daughter whatever juice she picks)

Daughter: YUCK! I didn’t want orange juice, I wanted apple juice.

Mom: Sorry you don’t like my decision. You can decide for yourself next time.

Daughter: NO, NO, NO. I want to pick.

Mom: I am glad you want to pick for yourself, but the time for choosing has come and gone. You can decide for yourself next time.

Daughter: (sobs)
Mom: I see you’re disappointed, but I know you can handle it. Let’s see if we can find something fun to do together shall we?

Be Both Firm and Friendly

Listen to yourself when you are making requests of your child and notice your words, tone, and body language. Are you being friendly when you are following through with firmness? If you are having trouble with this type technique it may be that your child perceives your requests as being dominating and controlling. Keep it firm and friendly.



Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach, popular public speaker and host of "The Parenting Show" Rogers Television.. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice. For more information on Alyson, please visit her website at