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Anna Seewald - Why listening to your children helps them listen to you

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Anna Seewald, author, and founder of Authentic Parenting, we talk about why listening to your children is critical if you want them to listen to you.

Anna shares some great advice for becoming a better listener, and how to use listening to build a stronger connection and relationship with your child.

Tags: Anna Seewald

Also in this interview:

About Anna Seewald

Anna Seewald is an internationally recognized parenting expert, keynote speaker, parent educator, divorce mediator, and the host of the top-rated podcast Authentic Parenting.

With graduate degrees in psychology and education for more than 20 years she has helped children, families, teachers and thousands of parents from around the world through her private practice, group programs, workshops, online classes and courses.

She offers court-ordered parenting classes and provides co-parenting counseling.

Anna talks about trauma-informed parenting and education, emotional regulation for caregivers and children, cultivating resilience, managing challenging behaviors, and raising emotionally healthy children. Her mission is to help children by helping parents.

Visit Anna’s website,, here.

You can find her podcast, Authentic Parenting, on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Or follow her on Instagram.

Why listening to your children helps them listen to you

Instead of focusing on changing your kids, Anna recommends focusing on improving your own listening skills.

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy that is working well for you or your clients, for getting kids to listen, or increasing the chances of them cooperating?

Anna Seewald: Before using a specific strategy to get children to listen and cooperate, the first thing we need to do as parents is listen to our children. Listening is a super skill, and any parent can hone that skill, and we all need to get better at listening first.

Listen to our children with curiosity, with presence, with openness, with no agenda, with no, “Oh, I know why or what’s going to happen,” with no intention to interject or interfere or assert our own words.

Just listening with pure intention of receiving our child, getting information, hearing them out, trying to understand where they’re at, what they’re going through, I think is a fundamental skill and we need to get better at this skill in order for them to listen and cooperate with us.

If we don’t take this first step, then we will not be so successful.

What it really means when you feel like your children aren’t listening to you

Anna shares why often, when your kids don’t listen to you, it is because you are stressed or overworked. So instead of focusing on getting them to listen, focus on calming down, letting go of your agenda, and connecting with your child.

Anna Seewald: Usually, I find that when parents say, “I want my child to listen and cooperate,” what that means is, “I want to control the outcome. I want to be in charge, and I want things to go the way I want them to go.” It sort of dismisses the child completely.

It becomes about the parent, but it tells us something about the parent. When I hear that complaint from a parent, that “my child is not listening, I want them to listen and cooperate. I say something a hundred times and then I have to yell and shout for them to listen or respond.” That to me is a sign that the parent is stressed out, is burnt out, is overwhelmed.

Because if you are in that state of hectic frenzy parenting in this modern paced, fast-paced, go, go, go, do, do, do culture, you want your children to listen and cooperate the very first time. Because you have a to-do list, you have things to do, you have places to be.

But children are present, and they are doing their own thing. Somehow, we live in different worlds. Our time sensation is different.

Children learn to tune out quickly when we completely disregard their own reality. When we don’t see them.

So, recognize that if I’m asking too much from my child, that’s not a sign that my child doesn’t respect me or doesn’t listen to me. That’s a signal to me that I need to pause, take a break, and re-evaluate my agenda. “Am I rushing? Am I frenzied?”

Because children sense that stress, and they learn to tune out because they don’t want to be with the mommy who is in that stressed-out state.

The strategy would be to relinquish all our agenda for the moment, to be in the present moment and approach our children and see what they’re engaged in and connect with them before asking for something.

How to build connection with your child (and why connecting with them helps them cooperate)

Anna explains the two different types of connection you have with your child, and how to first connect with your child in the moment before asking them to do something.

Anna Seewald: Connection comes in two flavors, so to speak.

There is the overall connection, the overall temperature if you will, of your relationship with your child.

And then there is the connection in the moment when you go down to your child’s level, show interest in the activities that they are involved in and say, “Hey, wow, what are you building? I see. Oh, that’s so cool. How did you do that?”

Once you connect with the child and you get a nod, a smile, or a response, then you can say that we must do X, Y, and Z.

So, first you show respect for the child’s time and activity, and then you move on with your agenda.

You connect with your child, in a respectful and present manner. It takes only a few seconds. And then you state what we’re going to do next.

Now, sometimes your child may still not like the idea of coming with you, but you need to set your limit. You have to say, “I get it buddy. I see that you want to play with your truck. Let’s put this safely right here and no one is going to touch this. When we come back, you can play with this again. How about that?” Or try to give the child a choice about the situation.

How to become a better listener

Anna shares several useful techniques for practicing your listening skills, with friends, on your own, and with your kids.

Sue Meintjes: That’s amazing, thanks. What are some things parents can do to listen better to their kids? To really listen and understand where your child is coming from?

Anna Seewald: The biggest one is to relinquish control of your agenda and purely practice listening. You can do it with your friend, you can do it with your partner, and you can do it with your child.

If listening is difficult for you with your child, I would encourage you to practice listening somewhere else, because you want to hone that skill.

You can practice it with another person. You can mindfully engage with another friend. You can say, “Hey, how about for four minutes each of us share and the other person listens for four minutes without interruption, without suggesting or saying anything, just receiving the other person. And then we take turns listening to one another.”

Or you can listen to music for 15 minutes at a stretch. Put some music on and sit down and tell yourself, “I’m not going to do anything else right now except listen to this piece of music,” and witness what’s happening inside you. Do you have an urge to get up and engage in something else besides listening? Do you criticize yourself for wasting time? Do you say to yourself, “this is stupid, this is nonsense?”

That’s another way of practicing listening.

You can also listen to yourself in a form of mindful meditation early in the morning or before bedtime. Or you can go for a walk and just listen to the sounds of nature for five minutes straight without the phone, or without listening to any books or podcasts.

So, start slow if listening is difficult for you.

Here’s another idea. Our smartphones come with a recording option. Put your smartphone in your pocket, press record, and record one or multiple interactions with your child or children. Then, a few days later, revisit that recording. Listen to yourself.

How do you talk? What tone do you use? What words do you use with your children? How do your children respond to you? What do they say? What words do they use? What patterns do you see?

It takes a bit of courage to do this exercise, but you need to self-reflect and self-examine your communication in order to transform it. I think it will give you a good clue.

You can also practice your listening with presence, with no agenda, with beginner’s mind, and with curiosity to learn something. Imagine that you don’t know anything about your child, that maybe your child is not even your child. Maybe this is someone else’s child that you are mentoring, or maybe you are just a friend to this child. How would you listen to that child?

Because we are intimately connected with our children, we assume that we know what they know, what they like, and what they don’t like. But when we truly drop into the present moment, open our heart, our minds, and our eyes, and truly listen with no agenda but to listen, then amazing, magical things happen in that relationship.

How to show your child that you are really listening to them…and what happens if you do this consistently

Part of listening to your children is showing them that you are listening to them. Here Anna shares how you can ensure that your children feel listened to.

Anna Seewald: When you do this regularly, your child feels seen, heard, understood, and visible. Your child basks in your attention because you’re listening with your whole self. Your eyes are showing interest and curiosity. Your body posture is relaxed, and it says, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to sit here and listen to you speak because I value what you have to say, and I care about it. And I have all the time in the world.”

That has to come through your facial expression and through your body language. Because if you are just sitting there, but in your mind, you are somewhere else, this will not work.

And the more we can show up like this in our parenting relationship, the more our children will listen to us. It’s not that they’re not listening to us. They are ignoring us. They are tuning us out because what we say is nagging.

What we say is not in their best interest. What we say is masked control. That’s why they learn to tune us out. They hear us and they say, “Oh, that’s mom. Oh, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” So, it’s not about them not being able to hear us, it’s a completely different phenomenon.

What to do if you feel like your children are not listening to you

Instead of telling your kids “You’re not listening”, Anna shares how to first examine your own feelings about the situation.

Sue Meintjes: That’s good, thank you. I often say to my children “You’re not listening”, so I can definitely relate to this.

Anna Seewald: When you find yourself saying to your children, “You are not listening to me,” pause for a moment and translate that same sentence as “I am losing control. I feel helpless. I feel powerless,” because that is exactly what it is.

It’s cold language for “I’m losing control. And I want you to cooperate so that I can feel in control. In charge. Good about myself.” And that usually stems from being over busy, overstretched, stressed out, burned out, and overwhelmed.

Therefore, in order not to say that to our children, we want to examine again our own patterns and take time to rest, de-stress, and engage in activities that nourish us, because we want to show up for our children in a mindful, present, loving, caring, and curious way. But if you are too busy thinking about a million things and you’re stressed out, you cannot give the gift of yourself to your children.

And instead, when you find saying, “You’re not listening to me, I want you to listen to me.” Instead of that, say to yourself in your mind, “Why is this situation so triggering? Why is this situation so hard for me? Why am I losing control?” And be with that feeling, with that sensation. Don’t be afraid. You will learn something about yourself, and you won’t be hard on your children.

A simple technique to prevent power struggles with older children

All kids need a sense of control, and if they don’t get that control they start fighting you for it. Here Anna shares a simple technique to help get kids to listen, while giving them a sense of autonomy and control.

Sue Meintjes: Thanks for this. Before we wrap up, is there anything you think parents should know about this topic?

Anna Seewald: Well, I could give you one strategy that works with older children. Oftentimes we want our children to cooperate. Meaning we want them to do the things we want them to do in that very moment we ask them to do.

But children are different human beings. They have their own life, they have their own moods, they have their own stressors. We want to consider that they are a person, and we want to respect that. Maybe they’re not in the mood to clean their room that day at that very moment.

So, we don’t want to turn situations like that into a power struggle. You want to give them more autonomy. Autonomy is one of the crucial emotional needs of children. Let’s say you asked your child to clean their toy room, but your child hasn’t done that task yet, and you asked a few times, well, here is a strategy to use.

You can say, “Honey, on a scale of one to 10, how ready do you feel to tackle this task?” Insert any task, and your child most likely will give you an answer three, because they’re not in a mood to do that task, whatever that task is, because it’s in your interest, not in your child’s interest.

And the next question would be, “Oh, interesting. What would make you go from three to eight? You’re not going to the maximum number 10, but you are still increasing the numbers. “What will make you jump to eight?” Again, you are honoring your child and giving your child autonomy and freedom to choose when and how to do the task. That’s an important component because when the child feels controlled, they don’t want to do anything.

But when they feel that they have control over their own situation, they become more eager to do it. And so, the child may say, “Well, maybe if I finish playing this video game and get a snack, then that might make me get to eight.” And then in that moment the parent can say, “Great, can I count on you?”

And from there you want to leave the room and trust and have faith that your child will tackle the task. Relinquish control, honor the child’s autonomy, and have faith that your child will do it.

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Next time you feel like your children aren’t listening, take a moment and check in with yourself – are you rushed or stressed?
  • Practice your listening skills with a friend or partner
  • Record some of your interactions with your child, and then review it and try to determine how you talk to your child, and how you can improve
  • Next time your child doesn’t want to do something, try asking them “On a scale of one to 10, how ready do you feel to tackle this task?” and then “What would make you go from three to eight?”, then leave and trust them to complete the task.
  • When your child is speaking to you, focus your full attention on them, and show with both your facial expression and your body language that they have your full attention
  • Visit Anna’s website,, here, or follow her on Instagram.

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here