A Little Trick to get Your Kids to Listen

So, a weird thing has been happening lately, and it’s proving to be pretty powerful. I’ve started telling my kids the truth.

We’re not talking the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (We don’t discuss Coronavirus ICU’s or that a stranger once came in to our home in the middle of the night, and I’m not planning to burst the much anticipated arrival of the tooth fairy) and I’m also not saying that my kids never listen to me – because they do and I feel like there’s a lot of mutual respect I’ve worked hard to earn.

I’m talking about during these mundane, nitty gritty, every day, ‘just-when-you-think-you-don’t-have-anything-left-to-give moments we all experience as parents, particularly in lockdown right now, when the kiddos are choosing not to listen, struggling with why they can’t go in to that room right now or have another snack, when it’s all too easy to fabricate a small something or just give up on the whole situation and divert their attention somewhere else – these are the times I’ve started telling them the simple, at times kinda ugly, truth. And it’s been really interesting.

So here’s an example from the other night.

I don’t know about yours but after a bath our kids tend to go a bit doolally (That feeling of cleanliness? The soap? The nudity?! Genuinely no idea….), and it’s the time of the day they’ll start swinging on the bunk bed ladder and running around the bedroom, seemingly so, so far from being calm and even close to getting pyjamas on, let alone falling asleep. So after what felt like 104004352 requests for them to get dressed, I finally turned to my starkers 3 year old who was mid sticking a tiny plastic ball to the wall, and point-blankly explained the situation, “Look Sonny,” I sighed, holding Abe in one arm and an overflowing basket of laundry (clean or dirty, I sometimes honestly can’t tell) in the other, “mummy is TIRED and needs you to please get your clothes on.”

And then the little piece of magic happened. He stopped with the ball (wallpaper saved – hurrah!), came over and started pulling his pyjama bottoms on, with a quiet concentration on his face that made my heart swell with love and gratitude. Woah, such gratitude. I watched on, whilst simultaneously doing a big ‘ole dance inside – I was edging closer to a Friday night glass of wine but moreover, I could feel the connection. I’d been honest with him, and he’d listened, empathised and co-operated. And we’ve had similar conversations about why we’re taking food to special places these days and staying away from our friends and family. More and more, it’s just strikes me – kids need truthful information, just like adults do.

More and more, it’s just strikes me – kids need truthful information, just like adults do.

Sounds simple, right? So why don’t we always tell our kids the truth in the first place? I’d argue we’re often simply too knackered to do so, that it can feel easier to tell a little white lie – to make up that the biscuits are finished (you bagged an online shop so that tin is full to bursting), to say their teacher wants them to work more (he didn’t), to respond with “mummy’s working” when you’re flicking through Instagram. That’s not all, especially during this pandemic.

According to Dr Emma Svanberg (aka The Mumologist), clinical psychologist and co-founder of Make Birth Better, “parents can feel like they need to protect their children from the truth. But by being open in an age-appropriate way, and allowing space to answer their questions, we are modelling a relationship based on honesty and open communication. However, we do need to be careful too about what information they are hearing, especially at the moment, either from us directly or from newspaper headlines or overhearing adult conversations. There is a lot of anxiety around at the moment so being able to acknowledge that but emphasise how many people are working to help each other can be reassuring at a time when kids (and adults) are feeling out of control”

“Parents can feel like they need to protect their children from the truth. But by being open in an age-appropriate way, and allowing space to answer their questions, we are modelling a relationship based on honesty and open communication” – Dr Emma Svanberg

Ultimately, there are boundaries that we as our childrens’ parents need to choose individually. From explaining why we need to go upstairs for a bath to unpicking the current pandemic sweeping across the world, it can be super hard to know how honest to be with our kids – for our sake, and for theirs. I have found it super fascinating though that by sharing just a little bit more about what’s going on for me right now, it’s opened a whole new channel of communication, and connection. And they’re listening, they’re listening more than ever.

How honest are you with your kids? Where do you draw the line?

Emma xxx

P.S 10 Tips for Positive Parenting and Granny Girl

Illustration : Kayela Larsen


  1. Jenn
    May 8, 2020 / 9:50 pm

    I love this. I try to always be truthful, and always have been. Sometimes I worry that I am too truthful. But yes, telling the truth has so many benefits!

    • R. B
      May 10, 2020 / 6:59 pm

      Yeah me too! Such a fine balance and totally feel I may have told ‘too much’ but in a hard world, I feel dialogue is important from an early age. If they don’t trust you now they won’t when they’re older

  2. The Earthy Teacher
    May 5, 2020 / 5:36 pm

    I LOVE this! As a teacher, I tell my students the truth in general (e.g. I am finding it difficult to be calm at the moment. Please do X, Y, Z now, and we can talk in a few minutes). 9 times out of 10 the children just get it. And as time goes on, they also respond in the same way (teacher, I need a mindful minute please). Thank you for sharing!

    • Emma Ross
      May 22, 2020 / 9:54 am

      ah you sound like the calmest, loveliest teacher. very inspiring. and i like how you give them actions to do to keep them busy. thanks so much for reading xx

  3. Abigail Southall
    May 5, 2020 / 5:28 pm

    As a teacher, I also find this to be true. Appropriate honesty about why you need something to happen is a fantastic tool when you have a trusting relationship with kids and they know, know, know that you love and care about them. ‘I need you to work quietly for the next 5 minutes because I need to think about how to do this next bit of the lesson’ is way more effective (if that’s the truth!) than ‘I need you to work quietly because the headteacher can tell from her office if we are being loud’. And then when you say you need them to work quietly to let themselves get deep into their story writing, they know its true and are way more likely to give it a try!

    • Emma Ross
      May 22, 2020 / 9:54 am

      YES to this. Truth trumps everything 🙂 thank you for reading abigail and so glad it chimes with you and your ways too x

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