“Answer Me When I’m Talking to You!” What to Do When Your Child Ignores You


“Answer Me When I’m Talking to You!” What to Do When Your Child Ignores You

If your child deliberately ignores you, pretends not to hear your requests, and refuses to greet you or others, read on to see how you can deal with their behavior without losing your cool.

Kids purposely ignore you because it gives them a sense of power and control. It makes them feel big, and pretending not to hear you makes them feel like they’re flexing their muscles.

What I recommend is that you figure out what’s important to you as a parent and what’s important to your child. When your child is not talking to you—or is frustrated with you and is not responding—the idea is to ask yourself, as hard as it may seem, “What does my child need from me right now?”  I think what they need is for limits, expectations and consequences to be spelled out more clearly for them at some calmer time so that they clearly understand what they’re risking. I believe what they don’t need is a lecture or confrontation, because that gives the situation more power and ultimately, it just feeds the fire. I personally think what your child may need from you is to be left alone. Remember, avoid power struggles and make sure you win the ones you pick. And only pick the ones that are going to be developmentally important for your child or your family, or that have to do with safety, health and welfare.

It’s natural for you to be frustrated when you see your child refuse to greet you or other people, or ignore you when you ask them how their day went. But it’s not the time to fight them. What we don’t want to do is give kids power and turn a small thing into a big thing. That’s a losing proposition, because your child is at developmental level where they’re testing boundaries.

It’s also important to understand that as children get older, part of their life task is to make more and more choices and decisions on their own. So you’ll often see teens and pre-teens demonstrating displeasure in more observable ways, and becoming increasingly rebellious. And much of this behavior, although it may be disturbing, is usually harmless and victimless. By that I mean no one really gets hurt; most often it is simply social rules and polite interactions that are being violated.

As a parent, you need to pick your battles with your kids. Saying that, I believe there are some areas where you should stand your ground. When your child is ignoring guests in your home or refusing to comply with reasonable requests, it’s time for you to step in and remind them what your family’s rules are.

  • My Child Refuses to Greet Other People

When kids refuse to greet your friends or guests, that’s considered rude behavior. I personally believe there should be a routine consequence for being rude. So after your friends have gone, you can say, “We’re nice to your guests, if you’re not nice to our guests, this is what’s going to happen.” Give your child some consequence for their rudeness. No cell phone for 24 hours is one that is often effective, or it could be no video games, no texting—whatever it is that will work with your child. Make it simple and clear. If your child tries to argue about it, say, “Don’t talk to me that way, we can talk after you calm down,” and walk away.

  • My Child Won’t Interact with Their Siblings

If your child is refusing to interact with his or her siblings, I don’t think you can make them. One of the things you can do is explain to younger siblings that as kids grow older, they want to spend more time with other kids their age. I think when you recognize the behavior and say things like, “You’re hurting your little brother by ignoring him,” what you’re communicating to them is, “You’re very powerful, and you’re hurting me by hurting your brother.” I don’t think you should give your kids passive ways to hurt or disturb you. Instead, explain the situation to your other children. You can say, “You know, when your big sister is tired or angry, she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, and that’s probably a good thing. Sometimes people just need to be quiet to get themselves together.” Teach your other kids to handle it instead of trying to force an interaction between them.

  • My Child Ignores My Requests to Do Chores or Homework

Kids will often ignore your requests for them to shut off the TV, start their chores, or do their homework as a way to avoid following your direction. Before you know it, you’ve started to sound like a broken record as you repeatedly ask them to do their assignments, clean their room, or take out the trash. Rather than saying, “Do your chores now,” you’ll be more effective if you set a target time for when the chores have to be completed. So instead of arguing about starting chores, just say, “If chores aren’t done by 4 p.m., here are the consequences.” Then it’s up to your child to complete the chore. Put the ball back in their court. Don’t argue or fight with them, just say, “That’s the way it’s going to be.” It shouldn’t be punitive as much as it should be persuasive. “If your chores aren’t done by 4 p.m., then no video game time until chores are done. And if finishing those chores runs into homework time, that’s going to be your loss.” On the other hand, when dealing with homework, keep it very simple. Have a time when homework starts, and at that time, all electronics go off and do not go back on until you see that their homework is done. If your child says they have no homework, then they should use that time to study or read. Either way, there should be a time set aside where the electronics are off.

  • My Child Ignores Me by Wearing His iPod All the Time

When a kid wears his iPod or headphones when you’re trying to talk to him, make no bones about it: he is not ignoring you, he is disrespecting you. At that point, everything else should stop until he takes the earplugs out of his ears. Don’t try to communicate with him when he's wearing headphones—even if he tells you he can hear you, wearing them while you’re talking to him is a sign of disrespect. Parents should be very consistent about this kind of thing. Remember, mutual respect becomes more important as children get older.

Listen, I know it can be very frustrating for parents to deal with kids who are ignoring them or other family members. Certainly, it can be very irritating and obnoxious. But here’s the bottom line: the less you take these behaviors personally, the more effectively you’ll be able to deal with the different phases your children will go through as they mature.

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About James Lehman, MSW

James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."

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