Why my Kid Doesn’t Listen to Me

Last week the toddler dumped his glass of water on the table. As I reached for a cloth to clean it up, he screamed–“look Mama, a lemon!”

To which I responded, “Um no, that’s just spilled water”.

But he still demanded, “no, it’s a lemon”. I looked again. The puddle of water had formed into a perfect little lemon-shape.

Indeed, it was a lemon.

I would have never noticed that lemon-shaped puddle of water. I also wouldn’t have noticed the faintest sound of an airplane in the distance. But he never misses it. It seems that young children see, hear, and observe everything.

Then why is it they NEVER hear us when we ask them to brush their teeth?

Because they are seeing, hearing, and observing everything. All at once. Young children lack something called “selective attention”. Selective attention is being able to focus on one thing while tuning out another.

As an adult, I tune out lemon-shaped puddles so I can pay attention to cleaning the mess. I tune out the sound of airplanes so I can focus on driving. We tune out little things out so we can tune in to more important things.

Young children don’t yet have that dial to tune in and tune out. While they often notice impossibly small and trivial things, they also don’t notice things like their mother asking them to brush their teeth for the eleventh time.

So rest easy, they aren’t tuning you out. But they aren’t tuning you in either.That’s because those little brains are rapid-fire working in a thousand different directions.

This doesn’t change the fact that they still need to brush their damn teeth. You can’t tell the dentist, “sorry he was looking for airplanes”.

We still need to get our kids to cooperate. This can be one of the biggest challenges. I am launching a (free) mini-course for you on this topic: cooperation. It’s five days, one minute a day. Get it now.

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Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.