How do you discipline a child that won’t listen? (Tips)

In this guide, we will discuss “How do you discipline a child that won’t listen” by indicating some tips and tricks you can use when disciplining your child and increasing desired behaviours. You may have learned how discipline is all about punishment because that is how you were taught while growing up but we will explore more effective options. 

How do you discipline a child that won’t listen?

If you ask ‘How do you discipline a child that won’t listen?’ then you may be frustrated and desperate to this point. However, you may have taught that the only way to discipline a child is through punishment, but have you ever stopped to wonder and pay attention to what your child does and why?

Sometimes as parents or carers we tend to set the limits or rules and what would happen if they don’t listen and abide by those rules but more often than not they become ambiguous. For instance, if you tell your child he/she can’t have more than 2 cookies before supper but they start crying, ask for another cookie and you give it to them just for them to stop then the rule is not a rule anymore.

What could have gone differently? Many parents will threaten them or just explode for them to stop or behave the way they are expected but if we analyze this scenario, this child cries in order to get an extra cookie and giving them what they want will only reinforce this behaviour meaning, it is more likely to happen again. Instead, you could remind them of the rule and negotiate with them the possibility of having an extra cookie after supper. 

Finally, determine if your child is not listening and end up misbehaving (i.e. tantrums) because they haven’t learned how to manage and express their emotions. More importantly, be their role model by making sure you model the behaviour you want them to display. For instance, don’t expect them not to yell at you if you are always yelling, not only to them but also other people.

Discipline doesn’t mean punishment

Do you remember how there were disciplines when you were a child? Maybe you remember every time you did something wrong you used to get yelled at or worse. However, this type of way to enforce discipline follows us to adulthood and we may end up replicating the pattern if we don’t change consciously. Think about how the cycle keeps perpetuating over time and generations.

Yes, having a child that won’t listen can be extremely frustrating and exhausting where we may believe they need to be disciplined through harsh methods for them to listen and do what they are told. However, this may be temporarily effective but we are not teaching our children the self-control and restraint, as we should.

Even more so, we are sending the wrong message encouraging (without intending to) challenging behaviours, aggressiveness, hostility, etc. You may feel like the bad parent because you seem to be disciplining your child as you may know and what ‘worked’ for you but it is not about being good or bad, but finding alternative ways to change your child’s behaviour without having to use harsh methods.

Encourage ‘desired’ behaviours

We would understand ‘desired’ behaviours as those we would like to appear more frequently or increase. Sometimes we are so used to saying ‘No’, ‘Don’t do that’ or ‘stop it’ that we don’t really pay attention when our child engages in good behaviours.

Good behaviours can be encouraged in many ways, for instance, a hug, a kiss or even just complimenting them with a ‘Good job’. For instance, if we are teaching them to brush their teeth but you struggle every time you let them know it is time to brush them and get irritated, screaming at them, telling them it is an order and it is final.

Let’s imagine one day your children come to you with their toothbrush waiting for you to go with them. This approach on their own should be rewarded if you would like this behaviour to be encouraged and repeated in the future.

Setting rules and limits

Let’s think about how we self-sabotage our interaction with our child when we say something and we end up doing something completely different. This is more common than we think, for instance, imagine you have told your partner you don’t like when they make promises and they never abide by them. However, you keep letting them do it over and over again.

The same basic principle applies here. If we tell our child bedtime is by 8 pm but we let them stay longer every day until 9:00 or 9:30 giving them more time to keep playing video games then the rule is not a rule anymore. However, instead of engaging and fighting with them we could negotiate but stick to what we have said. For instance, imagine they are not listening to you and would like to keep playing games. You can say something like ‘Do you need 10 more minutes to finish? After it, we will power the Xbox off and go to sleep’.

Avoid threatening them and being repetitive

As we have mentioned, threatening will give you just a temporary solution but in time they will become more and more challenging. Moreover, sometimes our instruction is too general that we don’t realize we are setting unrealistic limits. There are more effective ways to make a child listen to you.

However, if you give them an instruction but they are clearly distracted with something else then asking for them to repeat the instruction we have given can help us determine if the message was indeed received.

In contrast, if you have given them a clear instruction and you have asked them to repeat what the instruction was and they successfully do, there is no need to remind them every 5 to 10 mins about it. Instead, encourage active listening skills by listening to what they have to say and/or how they feel.

Tie the consequences to certain behaviours

As Megan Devine from indicates, “you’re giving your child a consequence because you want them to change what they’re currently doing. You want your child to learn something, whether it’s learning to clean their room, abide by the house rules even when they don’t want to, or come home on time each night.”

For instance, if they have finished playing with their toys and they want to watch TV but don’t want to clean up then you might say: “get all the toys from the living room to your room and then you can watch television. If you don’t get all the toys back into your room there will be no TV today.”

Remember, match the behaviour with only one consequence. If you are working on teaching your kid to clean after using his toys then there should be only one consequence for not doing it. 

Focus on one behaviour at a time 

As a parent, you may have many ideas about how you would like your child to behave. However, writing down all of the things you’d like to change won’t accelerate the process when you pay attention to all of them at the same time. Instead, focus on one behaviour and once they show improvement in that particular area, you can move on to the next.

If you focus on too many things at the same time it will not only be overwhelming to your child but also very confusing, not only to your child but also for you.

Remember that once you have chosen the behaviour you would like to work on and you have matched it to a specific consequence, be consistent. 

Give consequences time to work 

Your child may behave as if he/she doesn’t really care about the consequences but give it some time. They will attempt to make you believe that the consequence is not effective or doesn’t have any power over them.

However, stacking consequence after consequence without giving them any possibility of succeeding won’t actually help. If they don’t have anything else to lose then why should they care? You know your child, and you know by now the things they care about.

The key to setting effective consequences is to identify things that are valuable to them and tie them to specific behaviours restricting the access to those things we will call ‘reinforcers’. Think about how if they have free access to something they cherish or they really like then it will lose the purpose of being a reinforcer of the behaviour you are trying to establish.

For instance, if you know they have a favourite toy, you can use it as a reinforcer of behaviour such as brushing their teeth or eating their lunch.

Why is this blog about How do you discipline a child that won’t listen, important?

As we have discussed on ‘How do you discipline a child that won’t listen’ there is more to discipline than being punished and the idea is to consciously break the cycle. Moreover, we tend to make an emphasis and being repetitive when we spot undesired behaviours but tend to neglect those that are desired even if they are just approaches to the targeted behaviour.

Additionally, remember to set rules and limits but be consistent with the consequences. Avoid threatening your child to do something you need them to, the effect will only be temporary and may encourage more challenging behaviours. Finally, when targeting behaviours try to focus on one at a time and establish just one consequence per behaviour, in order to avoid overwhelming and confusing your child.

Please feel free to leave any comments or thoughts about the content of this article!

References “Discipline: 5 Dos and Don’ts When Your Kids Won’t Listen”

Devine, M. (n.d.) How to Discipline Your Child: Effective Consequences for Children Who Don’t Listen. Retrieved from

Embrett, C. (2018, Jun.) An age-by-age guide to disciplining your kid. Retrieved from