by Megan Tuohey

How to hone your son’s listening skills

Little boy playing with can phone connected by string, concept for talking to yourself

My friend Jess and her husband have two boys aged 4 and 7. She called me up for a chat about her younger son Jack and the trouble they’re having with his listening skills (or lack of them).

With my relationship-coaching hat on, I asked Jess to give me some specific examples. Two immediately sprang to mind:

  1. Her 4-year-old had repeatedly been asked not to touch a pair of gardening shears. He didn’t listen – he couldn’t resist the temptation.
  2. Her son had been asked not to smash open a ball (containing a Pokémon) on the floor inside the house, and to do it outside. He didn’t listen and smashed it inside.

Jess talked about how she and her husband handled these scenarios. They were consistent and aligned in their approach. They would ask their son nicely once, wait, and then escalate each time they weren’t being heard. Eventually they would be yelling with frustration.

Jess had also noticed that their two sons were beginning to use the same pattern when they were frustrated with each other. They’d start by asking their brother nicely, then more aggressively, and then yelling if they didn’t get the outcome they were looking for.

I suggested that to make a change, Jess and her husband needed to take a different view of the listening issue, using these 4 steps:

1. Uncover the whole story to reframe the situation
Jess and her husband’s perception is that Jack isn’t listening. This is true, but it isn’t the whole story. The broader truth comes from recognising that Jack cannot hear, because his inner need for mastery is louder than tuning in to being asked to stop doing something. As such, his internal need is louder than anything else.

2. Be a detective and find the source
‘Not listening’ is a symptom – follow your son’s inner need to the source of the problem. In the case of the shears, Jack is feels he is not being allowed to do a ‘big boy’ job and that makes him angry and frustrated. In the case of the Pokémon balls, the source of the problem is the frustration Jack feels when he can’t open the balls the way his big brother can.

3. Empathise with the feeling behind the lack of listening
I suggested that Jess and her husband take a moment to try and put themselves in their son’s shoes. How did it feel when they were misunderstood or unacknowledged as children? Jess and her husband need to verbally acknowledge how frustrating it is for a 4-year-old when he can’t open the Pokémon balls or use the shears the way his brother or parents can.

4. Redirect into a positive outcome
For the shears, I suggested finding a more age-appropriate pair of scissors that could be used to cut grass/plants alongside dad, allowing Jack to safely master the gardening task. For the Pokémon balls, I suggested that Jess and Jack go outside to the ‘Pokémon smash station’ and open the balls together until he has opened them successfully enough times. Jack then feels a sense of mastery, and greater trust between parent and child is created, as well as a new habit.  


Next time the ‘not listening’ issue raises its head in your house, try taking a new approach. Find the source; empathise with your son’s feelings of frustration and irritation; take a shared action that creates trust; and avoid yelling (which only serves to break the connection between parent and child).

It may not happen overnight, but by working towards a positive outcome together, you’ll help your son feel listened to, which will make him more likely to listen to you next time – no raised voices required.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Megan Tuohey is a relationship expert, parenting coach and parent to two young boys. You can find her at This article is about


  • image description

    What your kids need from you these holidays

    By Megan Tuohey

  • image description

    The simple way to connect with your son

    By Megan Tuohey