Listening is such an important part of lowering defiant behavior in children, but it’s a skill that must be learned and practiced. The more your child feels understood, the less they will lash out in a defiant manner. Use the following tips powerfully listen to your children. Listening shows your defiant child that you are interested and care about what she or he has to say. Here are some tips for parents to become good listeners:

  • Make eye contact. When it comes to listening, your eyes count almost as much as your ears. You eyes are a very powerful cue to your child that shows you are interested. If you make little eye contact, your child gets the opposite message—that you are not interested in what she’s saying.
  • Eliminate distractions. When your child expresses a desire to talk or seems open to talking, support him by giving him your full attention. Put aside what you were doing, face your child, and give him your undivided attention. If, for example, you continue to listen to your voice mail, wash the dishes, read the paper, or watch television while your child is trying to communicate with you, he may get the message that you aren’t interested in what he has to say. Or he may internalize the belief that what he has to say is not important. If your child expresses a desire to talk at a time that you are not able to, plan a time with your child to talk later on.
  • Listen with a closed mouth. As tempting as it may be to jump in with your unsolicited parental wisdom, it is best to try to keep the interruptions to a minimum while your child is speaking. You can offer encouragement through a smile or a pat, but don’t interrupt her. Your interruptions can break your child’s train of thought, and this can be very frustrating.
  • Let your child know she has been heard. After your child has finished speaking, show that you listened by restating what she said, in slightly different words. For example, if your child is complaining about her math class you could say something like, “It sounds like you had a really frustrating day at school.” Not only does this show that you’ve been listening, it provides your child with an opportunity to clarify if you have misinterpreted her message.
  • It is critical that you don’t criticize. I am convinced that a big reason so many children respond with “fine” or “good” when asked how their day at school was is because they are afraid of being criticized.


Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist, personal, and executive coach, and motivational speaker in the greater Philadelphia area. He has been on the Today Show, Radio, and has written four popular books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. You can also follow him on twitter.

Most Recent Posts from Liking the Child You Love

Criticism, Avoidance, and Negativity: How They Destroy Love

Making your love last means stopping the toxic fighting!

The Seven Things That Happy Couples Do

Working smarter instead of harder for relationship happiness