3 Tips to Deal with the Frustration of Step Kids not Listening

by Amy  - April 14, 2022

Are you frustrated because your partner’s children don’t listen to you?

Are you at the end of your rope by the end of each day because you feel like your step kids don’t respect you? 

Do you feel like your step kids intentionally disobey you by not listening? This is often followed by feeling like the other adults don’t back you up when this happens.

I’ve been there. 

It sucks.

I’m going to share three tips that I find are very helpful to work through this. 

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Let’s talk about bad advice first

Your instinct at first might be to “get tough.” You may want to give out punishments as consequences for these behaviors. Punitive consequences include, removing privileges, removing access to toys and/ or withholding love or affection. 

If you ask online you might get advice to do that too. People might tell you that you are the adult and you need to make your partner back you up. 

I see people give out this advice all day long in facebook groups and support forums. If it works for you … great. 

I’m going to go ahead caution you against these hard-handed strategies. They may sound good at first but they add conflict – they don’t reduce it. In my experience, these strategies rarely work. That’s the biggest reason I suggest not using them.

My goal as a life coach is to offer you tools and strategies that improve your life. For me that’s rarely done by increasing the conflict in a situation. 

I find that these tips are helpful for stepparents and truly any adult dealing with kids. They helped me a lot with my biokids too.

I’m going to call these tips but they are not really action items. These are what I call reframes. It’s a way to shift how we look at things. The reason to do that is so that we have a more desirable experience.

Children are terrible listeners.

This applies to almost all children. It’s not something that they are good at doing. It has nothing to do with the fact that these are your stepkids or what their relation is to you at all. This is a limitation of children. 

Don’t believe me? 

I can prove it. Simply go to any organized event with kids from a school class, band practice, music lesson, sport practice, playground, even Sunday school and watch for a few minutes. See how much time is spent keeping the kids “on task” and just trying to get the kids to pay attention. It’s stunning. 

There are techniques that can be really helpful for this. I share some of mine here .

Most important though is the shift in perspective if we start with the realization that kids aren’t good at this and we aren’t expecting them to be good at paying attention it gives us a better starting point.

It’s like when you go into a place (like a busy post office) that you know is going to be slow and inefficient. If you can get yourself ready for that before hand … it’s less annoying. 

People listen to what they are interested in hearing

This point or tip applies to all people, not just kids. 

We listen to what is important to us. 

We listen to what interests us. 

We pay attention to what we want to be involved in. 

If you are interested in WW2 history you may happily watch a 3 hour documentary on that subject and find it fascinating. Others may not.

I love endurance sports. I will sometimes watch live coverage of people running a marathon. My husband thinks that’s literal torture. He has no interest at all.

We simply don’t listen or pay attention to what we don’t care about.  

This is probably just human nature.

There is actually some research out there that our human brains may be designed this way on purpose to help us sort through the bombardment of information that we are exposed to everyday. One concept is that we most likely presort and prep our brains to only see and hear what we think we want to pay attention to. 

Otherwise we would be sorting through thousands of stimuli every minute of everyday which is beyond what we can do.

This is one of the ideas behind the concept of the reticular activating system (RAS) that you may have at one time heard of. The RAS is behind something you have probably experienced which is if you start thinking about something you begin to see that thing around you.

I’m not a scientist. I don’t want you to think I made this up. I didn’t. I’m also not sure if everybody truly fully believes in this idea so I present it to you as a possible concept and I encourage you to make your own decision. 

I think there is lots of information about the reticular activating system online. Google away to your heart’s content. People who believe in manifestation talk about the reticular activating system as a tool a lot. I think it might have more mainstream or traditional science behind the basics. 

Let me explain the concept.

Say you are shopping for new shoes. You begin to think that you might want one type or style of shoes and then all of a sudden you see those shoes more often. It’s not that there are suddenly more of those shoes – it could be but maybe not. It’s that your brain was sorting those out of what you were paying attention to until you began to look for them. 

Unfortunately, for all adults who work with kids, kids are not usually interested in what we want to say to them. 

Kids want to eat, sleep, and play. When they get older they want to socialize with their friends. They do not usually want to stop playing to clean up, do their homework when asked, or turn off the tv. 

They just don’t. 

If you think back to when you were a kid you probably didn’t want to either.

Understanding this doesn’t solve the problem. 

What understanding this as a starting point does is help us to not take it personally. Why aren’t they  listening to me …because they aren’t and that’s all. 

Here’s a hack that uses our RAS to get a kid’s attention. Try it.

One of the things that is usually part of our RAS is our own names. 

Even in a group of people and a loud place sometimes hearing our names can cut through a lot of noise. Especially in a voice that we know very well. Try using the child’s name to get their attention before you talk to them and see what happens. 

If this really bugs you – it’s quite possibly worth figuring out why

Kids not listening is annoying. There’s no doubt about that. 

In my opinion, this is a reality of adulting with kids. If this is an occasional thing that you move through pretty quickly. Know that you aren’t alone and try to laugh about the lunacy that is being a human sometimes.


If you are really aggravated by the idea that your step kids or kids are not listening or taking you seriously, or respecting you there might be something else going on.

If this is happening you may see this in a variety of places in your life. Kids, co-workers, friends, relatives and probably your partners too. This is only because how we handle one emotional situation is how we handle that in all parts of our life.

If you have ever had a thought like, “these kids are driving me crazy.” Or if the behavior of the kids has made you question staying in your current relationship that could be something else.

If you are very frustrated and even angry on a regular basis about this it might be something else entirely. 

What’s going on may be more than just a kid not listening. 

Honestly, this could possibly be about you and not what the child is doing. 

I have a personal philosophy that within our families we are looking for three things to help us feel safe and secure. One of those things is being heard. 

When we feel like we are not heard we can feel unvalued and unworthy. 

That feels terrible. I will share from my experience that it is worth doing the work to change that. 

If you find that your perception of the kids or your partner not listening to you is setting you off in angry outbursts or episodes of sadness that are overwhelming there may be things you can work on for yourself to turn this around. 

I offer a whole free video training on overwhelm which you can find here

Or you can reach out to me and we can talk about your specific situation and what some options for how life coaching might be to help you create calm and happiness for yourself.

Training for You

Grab my Steps for Happiness as a Stepparent

Can you love a stepchild like your own children?


Amy Stone (she/her/hers) is a life coach who helps adults in blended families. She is a mom, step-mom and a step-grandma. Other random fun facts include that She is a 7-time Ironman triathlon finisher and many many marathons and shorter races. She created amysaysso.com.

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