listening ears

Today’s Sluiter Nation Recruit is sort of different.  And special.

Twitter_PhotoToday Dr. Deborah Gilboa of Ask Dr. G is here answering a question I have about Eddie’s behavior.

“Dr. G is a board certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting speaker and writer she follows 4 basic principals when guiding parents from toddlerhood to young adulthood – Respect, Responsibility, Responsiveness and Resilience.”

I was so excited when she contacted me about being here today.

I have talked about Eddie’s “listening ears” before, and many of you commiserated with me about having similar problems with your 2-4 year olds.  So, Dr. G is giving us some advice today!

Here was the question I posed to her:

Eddie ignores us.  Even though he knows there are consequences.  And then, when the consequences inevitably happen, he acts shocked and surprised and scream-cries every. Single. Time.

How can we get better listening ears the FIRST time we tell him to do something?

And here is her response:

Well, Sluiter Nation, this is not unique to your land! Or, at the very least this is something our two home countries have in common.

Let’s talk about “ignoring.”

To an adult, ignoring is what is happening if I ask my child to do something and he doesn’t look at me, say “Sure Mom, I’d be happy to drop this fun thing to do that super-annoying and pointless thing you want without any complaint” and then get up and do it. Immediately.

From Eddie’s point of view, he is not ignoring you!  He is (take your pick) playing, thinking, listening to something else, imagining, building, wrestling, resting, “reading” or any number of other really important-to-him activities. AND, you can only consider yourself ignored if you know he heard you.

Here are three tricks to actually getting a kid’s attention:

  1. If you don’t have eye contact he can’t hear you. So don’t start talking until he is looking you in the eye. The part of his brain that can actually attend to your words is not engaged if he is focusing on something else. Some kids can’t hear you until they have put down the toy, even if they’re looking at you.
  2. Don’t make your request until he’s participating in the conversation. Set you and Eddie up for success (defined as asking only once). Do this by calling his name or tapping him or shooting of a flare gun until he looks at you and answers you. “Yes Mommy?”
  3. If you have to repeat yourself, get quieter instead of louder. The instinct to escalate our volume when saying something for a second time is almost inescapable! Unfortunately, as volume rises, so does blood pressure and frustration. If you get quieter he will attend to your words better.

Once you have his attention you have to make a quick assessment. Ask yourself, “Is there a good chance of him doing what I’m asking?”

  • An easy one: “Please put on your shoes to go to the park.” Good bet that he jumps up!
  • Something that could use a reward: “Please put down the Legos and wash your hands for dinner. First time please so that we have time for a puzzle together after dinner!”
  • Something that might need a consequence: “Clean up that game and thank your friend for the playdate. We have to go, and if I need to ask again we won’t be able to stop at the library on the way home.”

The last tip I want to leave you with is this: If you have to repeat yourself sometimes you didn’t fail. Do you do everything you’re asked the first time? I sure don’t. Just ask my husband, or my kids for that matter! Keep in mind that Eddie is old enough to have his own “agenda” about his day and that, though your way is better for him, you are throwing a wrench in his plans! You’re (of course) in charge, but we can have a little empathy that our kids don’t really get much decision-making power about their schedule.

Happy communicating!



Thank you, Dr. G for this great advice!  Cort and I have already tried this and we get a WAY better response when we get eye contact from Eddie FIRST before telling/asking him what to do.

Find more Q&A on Dr. G’s blog and follow her on facebook and twitter (love interacting with her in both of these places!  She is ALWAYS available to answer questions!)

Bring Dr. G to come speak at your school or church or work or university.


About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. Oh how I empathize with you. Mine are much older and I still get the exact same response. Only now their toys are bigger that I can take from them 🙂

  2. Timely advice, Dr. G! My husband and I were just discussing how most of our troubles with our toddler is because we feel he is not listening. Gonna try these tips! Thank you.

    • Allison, I know you have a lot going on right now. Thanks so much for giving my suggestions a try. Let me know how it goes!

  3. I recently met Dr. G in person. What a valuable resource she is for parents! I’m flagging this post, keeping it handy, and memorizing it! My 2.5yo son has recently misplaced his listening ears, too. But this gives me hope for their return.

    • Hi Jaime, it was great to meet you! I have to say that “listening ears” can get pretty lost at my house too!

  4. I am so happy to be here! Listening is a struggle for every kid (and most adults). Don’t lose heart!

  5. These are good tips. I don’t think I knew (or lost the memory) that eye contact is key with young kids.

    Thanks Deb!

  6. Great advise. Works in the workplace too. I give the talk softer bit of advise all the time.

    • Corey, thanks for that feedback. I hear a lot on my website that employers and managers use parenting suggestions!

  7. I am glad I am not the only one who feels like their toddler is deaf. 😉 this was very helpful, thank you for sharing and making an example of yourself and Eddie!

  8. My question is this: What about children on the spectrum who have trouble with eye contact? If you know you are asking something that they understand, yet they don’t respond, you can’t exactly expect eye contact or a verbal response most times. Do you have a strategy for reaching them?

    • What an excellent question. I would ask the parent what behavior the child does show when he is engaged. Eye contact and verbal response may not be reasonable. Perhaps, though, the child stops a repetitive behavior when he is listening? Does she or he touch a part of their own body or a toy when attending to something? What does your child do that lets you know he has (as Kate likes to say) his “listening ears” on? Get that before making a request and the communication may go better.

  9. Love this advice. As a Pre-school teacher we were taught that it is very important to make eye contact and get down on their level to effectively get the children’s attention. I found it to be one of the best tips I’ve gotten and try to use it at home with my own kids… especially the little one who has the same “issues” as Eddie. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

    • Susi, I really think kids with the same “issues” as Eddie are just adventurous kids who are busy in their own heads sometimes. All great character traits, but occasionally hard to live with!

  10. I really need to remember to get eye contact established before starting to ask for something from mine. I think I generally go through the three different examples you use. I agree that in the end you’re boss but thank you for including a note about empathy. Being a kid is hard and they’re not always trying to be difficult….they’re just small and don’t understand why they can’t do what they want. Hell…I’m big and I still don’t like being told what to do 🙂

  11. My only issue with the wording of this, is by saying please go do this.. it sometimes sounds like a choice to a toddler/preschooler and they can choose to say no.

    • I hear you! We have made it clear to our child that we say “please” to be polite. If we are giving him a choice, we say so!

  12. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very web smart so I’m not 100% positive.
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated.


  1. […] Gilboa–aka Dr. G–here as a Sluiter Nation Recruit and to answer a question I had about Eddie’s Listening Ears.  She is back today by popular demand…mine.  I had another question that I thought maybe […]