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

by James Lehman, MSW
“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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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."

READER'S COMMENTS

Thank you James. I deal with these types of situations intermittently with my 3 sons aged 17, 13 & 11. It helps to be reminded that they're not the only ones that do this and that there are simple, non-emotional ways to deal with it. You're the best.

Comment By : Christine, Mom of 3

Excellent and to the point.

Comment By : Monica

This is working well for me at home. But, what do I suggest the teacher do when he ignores her at school or is disrespectful?

Comment By : Kristy

Hi Kristy. I'd recommend that you read about what Brandi Franks does in her classroom when kids don't listen or act out. Hope this is helpful!

Comment By : Elisabeth

I have visited this article many times for help. At first my 13 yr old was just pretending not to hear me. Now she is pretending to be sleap or avoiding me as if she just does not want to be bothered. I do not know what to think.

Comment By : mom2457

MY TODDLER IGNORES ME WHEN I TELL HIM NOT TO DO SOMETHING ESPECAILLY GOING INTO THE ROAD WHEN WE ARE OUTSIDE.

Comment By : NICOLE

This is a very good article. It really helps me deal with my 10 year old son with ADHD.

Comment By : mommy13102

What do you recommend if your child shuts down and goes to bed and ignores you when he doesn't agree with you or doesn't want to do what you ask?

Comment By : Eva

* To Eva: It sounds like you are dealing with a very challenging situation. What we typically recommend is that you restrict a privilege until your child does whatever it is you had asked him to do. For example, if you asked him to take out the trash and he went up to his room and went to bed, you would let him know when he wakes up that he is still responsible for taking out the trash and he will not have access to his computer until he does so. If your son seems to be sleeping too much, or if he doesn’t seem to care about anything, it’s a good idea to check in with his doctor to see if there is something else going on here. We wish you luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

will this help me with my 5 and 7 yr ol,d grandsons? they can totaly loving one minute and totaly disrespectful the next. they have been through a lot and i believe they need consuling. i really would like this, but it seems to deal a lot with teens and i need help before they get to the teens. grandma paulette

Comment By : grandmapaolette

* To 'grandmapaolette': Thank you for your question. We appreciate your interest in the Total Transformation Program. The beginning lessons in the program that teach parenting techniques that lead to accountability are appropriate for parents with children of any age. Developing this style of parenting will help you guide your grandsons toward achieving the goals you set for them throughout their lives. We understand that each child is different and only you can know for sure what is right for yours. Try it in your home using our 30 day money back guarantee offer. If you have questions about ordering the program, feel free to call 1-866-291-5028 and a trained sales representative will be glad to help you out.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Love, your articles, I have learned sooo much from them!!! Thankfully my 12 yr. old son is a good boy... most of the time. Loved the comment above "mutual respect becomes more important as children get older". Will remember that one! Thanks again for all you do!!!

Comment By : Nicosmom

my stepson is coming up 3 i've known him since birth but it was 18 month ago my partner split from his mum and our 14 year friendship grew into more. Since then my partners ex has a new boyfriend and I currently see my stepson every other weekend. I know its a tough time for him and am gentle when communicating and limit my interactions with him so that he has quality time with my partner as it's very limited. What I have noticed is he now will completely ignore me looks straight through me when playing or if I am around. This is a new relationship so we do not live together and while my partner of which I encourgae there time together because they really needed to form strong bonds spends every other weekend at there mothers so that the grand parents also has time with him. I feel that my stepson dosent want me to be apart of this. It sounds strange but he will make sure that when I am present he will shy away from me clingy for mum of grand mum walk out not interact with me on my own unless instructed to great me he wont. Sometimes I catch a glare that looks as though he's angry at me. My partner wants me to be around more while Im feeling less than awkward about it. I'll keep communicating and trying but what do I do feeling like the next time he ignores me is to just do the same.

Comment By : slightlylost

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Ignore, Ignoring, Teen, Child, Silent treatment

Responses to questions posted on EmpoweringParents.com are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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