How to get through to your preschooler without losing your mind

I am VERY excited today to host one of my favorite people in twitter and blog land, Dr. Deborah Gilboa from Ask Dr. G.

Dr. G (if we ever meet I’m pretty sure I will still call her Dr G instead of her actual first name) is a Board Certified Family Physician and mother of four. I’m not sure which gives her more credibility in my eyes (just kidding! It’s the kids) She not only speaks on parenting issues and answers all of your burning questions on her website, Ask Dr. G, she also runs an individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate.” And she’s featured on the Huffington Post! That’s big time, folks. She’s kind, supportive, and never charges me when I throw her a quick question on the Twitter.

Dr G was kind enough to answer a question for me that I think a lot of you with preschoolers (or maybe even older kids?) will relate to. I call it “Can you hear me, or am I talking to a brick wall?” syndrome.


How do you get your preschooler to listen without shouting so loud that the neighbors can hear? Seriously, I feel like I am talking to a brick wall sometimes, especially with one of my twins in particular. It could be me telling them to do/not to do something, or it could just be me trying to get her attention. She’s often off in lala land.
Signed, Harried mother of twins plus one (okay, it’s me)


Some kids are spacy! My husband (brave, brave man) coached our son’s kindergarten soccer team. He was fantastic, but said there wasn’t much to be done with the “astronauts.” These are the kids who lose track of the game in favor of butterflies, mud, kites, their own belly buttons…

Being off in lala land can be a great personality trait, unless, of course, you’re the one who has to get her attention. Kids who can imagine, focus on something the rest of us don’t see, give their complete attention to the task they’ve chosen are kids destined to make great strides in… something.

Until that great day when she dedicates her Nobel prize to you, however, you’re going to have to figure out what does get her attention. No need to yell, she doesn’t hear you anyway!

There are three tricks to actually communicating with kids:

  1. If you don’t have eye contact you have to assume she can’t hear you. So don’t start talking until she is looking you in the eye. The part of her brain that can actually attend to your words is not engaged if she is focusing on something else. Some kids can’t hear you until they have put down the toy, even if they’re looking at you.
  2. If you have to repeat yourself, get quieter instead of louder. The instinct to escalate our volume when saying something for a second time is almost inescapable! Unfortunately, as volume rises, so does blood pressure and frustration. If you get quieter she will attend to your words better.
  3. Kids don’t hear what you say to someone else. As a mom of four, I can’t begin to count the number of times I have said “Did you not hear what I JUST said to your brother?” The honest answer? “No, did you say something?” Kids can not be an example to one another. Just give up that fond wish now.

There are lots of other great communication tips. Keep it short, ask your child to repeat back to you what they heard, use funny voices… There are lots of options to avoid yelling if you can keep your cool long enough to remember any of them. Ha!

The last yelling tip I want to leave you with is this: It’s OK to yell occasionally. People in this world yell. If a child has never heard someone “lose it” in frustration at home, they are not going to be so resilient when this happens to them at school or youth group or at their first job. Even more important, they’re not going to have any context for their own frustration as they grow if they never see ours.

So happy communicating!

 Ask Dr G preschoolers

Do you feel better after reading that? I totally do. I really like “No need to yell, she doesn’t hear you anyway!” It’s like she knows my kids. I also love the idea of keeping it short and having them repeat back to you. We forget that our kids can’t soak in a long, drawn out lecture on why they shouldn’t sling sticks around pretending that they are Puss and their sister is Kitty Softpaws when “You’ll poke your eye out” will suffice.

I love these tricks, and I’m committed to keeping them in mind the next time I’m being ignored they’re being spacey.

And I cannot WAIT until Rachel dedicates her Nobel prize to me.

Thanks for stopping by with your words of wisdom, Dr G! If you want more (and you should), make sure to check out her website, Ask Dr G, follow her on Twitter at @AskDocG, and visit her on Facebook.


Join the Conversation


  1. I am so happy to be here! This is something that I think most parents face every single day! Keeping our cool is of course the hard part! Thanks for inviting me Leigh Ann!

  2. My son is a totally “space cadet”. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if he’s ignoring you, or just lost in his imagination (I’m suspicious because saying a buzz word like “candy” or “movie” can bring him instantly to attention).

    Just tonight at dinner, he was so absorbed in finding all of the words in the kid’s menu he didn’t eat one bite of the bread that he typically shovels into his mouth. Upon finishing, he was shocked to find bread on the table and immediately dug in.

    So what is the alternative to yelling when they are too far away to talk and you cannot run after them…?

    Thanks for having Dr. G. stop by!

    1. Oh Kelly, sometimes you have to yell to be heard across the soccer field. And sometimes you yell because you can’t say “stop that now” in a reasonable voice even one more time. We just do better if we yell infrequently enough that it makes an impression when we do!

  3. These tips couldn’t have come at a better time!! My daughter is at a crucial stage where follow through and listening is so important. I’m taking this advice and holding it tight. Thank you so much.

  4. I like the part about how when I get frustrated and yell anyway, I’m helping them understand what it is like to be with someone who is frustrated. I can feel good that I am pretty sure they have this one covered.

  5. I second the timely comment! These were great reminders for helping me to keep my cool the next time I think that my kiddo isn’t listening to me. Thanks for having Dr. G as a guest blogger, and thanks to Dr. G for her wonderful insight!

    1. Nicole, I’m so glad this came at a good time for you! I hope you’ll check out my site and drop off any other questions that might come up for you while you’re parenting!

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