How to Get Your Kids to Listen – Without Raising Your Voice

Get Your Kids to Listen #withoutraisingyourvoice #parenting

Lately, I’ve gotten seriously fed up with having to repeat my kids’ names , each repetition rising in volume until the entire neighborhood (probably the entire city) could hear my roar. I’ve gotten fed up with my kids for not responding like they know they should… and I’ve gotten fed up with myself for allowing this to continue. That’s just some straight up bad parenting right there. 

As I considered how to go about remedying this situation I found myself in, I remembered some advice our pastor had given a few months back about training your children in obedience and respect: He recommended training your children before the need arises. As it applies to this particular problem, that means training them to respond to your call in the way you want them to before you actually try calling their name. In other words, don’t try to train them to respond politely and respectfully when you’re irritated in the heat of the moment. Nope. That’s just more bad parenting. To really train them well, you have to train them before the fact, not after. 

I contemplated how to go about this for a while before it hit me: Turn it into a game! Kids love games, right? And usually, the simpler the better. The game I came up with is definitely simple, but it is amazing how much fun The Boys have playing it!


photo credit: sideshowmom

The “Yes Ma’am! Game”

I call it the “Yes Ma’am! Game” and it goes like this:

  • I call one of The Boys’ names in a sing-songy voice.
  • If they respond with a prompt “Yes, ma’am!”, then I say, with great excitement a la a carnival caller, “Ding-Ding-Ding! You’ve won a prize! Mmmmm-Wuah!!” The “Mmmm-Wuah!!!” part is, of course, an air kiss, and is as exaggerated as I can make it. They collapse into giggles and absolutely love it.
  • If, however, they fail to respond, or worse, respond with a “WHAT?!?!” full of attitude, then I say, “ERRRRRR (think of a buzzer sound)!! You lose!”, followed by a sad face. This usually prompts them to say a cheerful “Yes Ma’am!” but it’s too late for the “prize”.
  • Repeat until you’re sick and tired of it.

Told ya. Simple!

The Boys
The Boys!

How it Works

To be honest, when I first started this whole game, I wasn’t sure how it would all play out; but I figured anything was better than hollering their name at the top of my lungs, so I just dove in and did it with gusto. 

It played out much better than I expected! Here’s how it all went down:

  • Day One: On our way to school, we played this game for the first time. The whole way. Over and over and over. And over again. I was quite surprised by how much fun they had, and every time I tried to stop playing the game, they literally begged me to play it some more. I was tickled pink. They had no idea that training was in session! Sneaky ol’ mama!
  • Day Two: The evening of the second day, Daddy had a chance to get involved in the fun, and we all took turns calling each other’s names. Yes, The Boys even called out “Mommy!” and “Daddy!” and we had to answer with either a “Yes, sir!” or a “Yes, ___Kids’ Name___!” After all, everyone should be treated with respect, not just mommies and daddies. And Tiger Cubs’ little “Mmmm-wuah!” air-kiss was so precious, it was a prize worth getting.
  • Day Three: The Boys were too good at the game by this point, so I introduced a new element: surprise! This time, no matter how much they begged, I wouldn’t call their name when they were asking for it or expecting it. I explained that they had gotten too good at this game, so I needed to make it a little harder. They were pleased with that explanation, although Tiger Cub (the younger one) still kept asking for me to call him, so occasionally I would indulge him.
  • Day Four: Honestly, I was a little surprised that by this time, the “Yes Ma’am!” response was starting to become automatic, whether we were actually playing the game or not. I started intentionally calling them during times when they were involved in something else to see how well they would respond. And I would keep the game going – if they responded the right way, I’d give them an air kiss at the very least, but if they did not, then I’d make the “wrong” buzzer sound. I did find, though, that they responded best when I called their name with a bit of a sing-song in my voice, even when I was serious about needing their attention. One little problem did arise, though: as soon as they had said “Yes Ma’am!”, they would go back to what they were doing without waiting to hear what I had to say to them, which kind of defeats the purpose, so I had to learn to grab their attention quick while I had it.
  • Day Five: Mission Accomplished!! I can truthfully say there’s a lot less name-yelling going on around here and a lot more “yes-ma’am-ing”. An unexpected benefit of this whole game is that I as the parent am doing a better job of addressing them with the respect they deserve, which means that they in turn address me with more respect. You reap what you sow, you know?

I plan to keep this game up until we’ve got it down pat and the “Yes Ma’am” answer is automatic every time, and then I’ll resurrect it as I need to when the habit slips.


photo credit: sgarton

Will It Work For You?

No guarantees, friend, but here are a few tips to at least give it a fighting chance:

  • It probably works best for kids in the preschool/early elementary age range. Any older and they’ll just look at you like you’re cross-eyed. Trust me, your teenagers will not have fun playing this game! (I don’t have teenagers but somehow I just know this. Such great wisdom I have, I know!)
  • You can choose whatever phrase you want your kids to respond with. I know not everybody has their kids call them “ma’am”, and in fact, we didn’t start out doing that. In the past, we’ve had our kids say, “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy” instead of “ma’am” or “sir”, so that will work just as well. Or maybe just a polite “Yes?” is good for you. Whatever works, as long as it is in a polite tone.
  • Don’t play the game in the heat of the moment when you’ve called them the thousandth time and they have not even looked your way. Wait until a time when everybody is relaxed and happy and introduce the game in a fun and inviting way. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be silly! That’s a lot of the charm of this little game.
  • Your “prize” can be whatever you want: a hug, a real kiss, a sticker, singing a song, whatever. I chose an air kiss because I was driving at the time, and it was some way I could show them love and affection without taking my hands off the wheel. I think intangible prizes have more value than tangible prizes, personally, and whatever you do, don’t go with candy.

*This post was originally published on Authentic Simplicity in January 2014. 

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  1. says

    This sounds like a great game to teach them to respond politely! I’ve always thought that training good habits proactively is WAY easier than trying to break bad habits after the fact :-)

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