Knowing how to get your toddler to listen can make it easier for many parents and caregivers to manage difficult moments due to toddlers’ tantrums. It is common for toddlers to show behavioral outbursts such as defiance, mood swings, aggression, and screaming. These all are signs of the healthy development of your little one’s brain.
A baby becomes more aware of surroundings when they reach toddlerhood and often desires independence, expresses emotions, exhibits defiant behavior, and often imitates others (1) (2). Therefore, it is normal for a toddler to run or crawl around without listening to the instructions.
Several of the toddler’s behaviors are driven by impulses, wants, and needs rather than logic and reasons. Therefore, it is essential to guide and encourage them to follow basic instructions. Read on to learn about reasons and tips for getting your toddler to listen to your instructions.
Why Does A Two-Year-Old Not Listen?
Although it is normal for toddlers to ignore your words, there could be other reasons for your two-year-old toddler not paying heed to your instructions. It could be because
1. You are saying too much, too often.
While you may want your toddler to do many things, giving them one instruction at a time and being short and crisp are recommended. As toddlers have short attention spans, going all out and giving them multiple instructions would fall on deaf ears.
2. They are busy doing something else.
It is natural for your toddler to show defiance and not pay attention to you when performing an activity that interests them. This holds true when your child is watching their favorite show, dancing to their favorite song, or is engrossed in a block activity.
3. Your tone is wrong.
How you instruct your child or ask them to do something is very important. If you are harsh or rude, it might not go down well with them. Similarly, begging your child or being sweet all the time doesn’t work either.
4. You criticize them.
No one likes being constantly criticized. This holds true for your little one too who senses a criticizing tone in what you are saying. If you constantly criticize your toddler by saying things such as “Why don’t you listen?” they will stop listening to you.
5. Your behavior is inconsistent.
When children don’t listen or make a mistake, it is natural and okay to give them time-outs or take away privileges for a short time. However, when you become lenient and do not follow through with your “If you don’t listen to me I will …,” your toddler will take your instructions for granted and never listen to anything you have to say. This is because they know there are no consequences of not listening to parents.
How To Get Your Toddler To Listen?
When your toddler’s reluctance and refusal to listen cross a certain limit, they must be taught how to listen. This can be done through effective communication and by setting a good example. Here are a few useful tips to get your tiny tot to listen to your instructions.
1. Read stories to them
To teach your child to listen more, it is a great idea to read to them. Reading aloud while using animal sounds and emphasizing certain words to grab their attention is an excellent way to encourage them to listen. Read them stories and poems as these are attention-grabbing, and your toddler will be interested to hear them.
2. Play listening games
Another way to teach your toddler to listen is by playing listening games. For example, you could play the whisper game, Simon says, musical chairs, or sound hunt or try some of the activities mentioned in this post (3).
3. Get down to their eye level
When speaking to your toddler, especially when you want them to listen to you, get down to their level. You can kneel, sit next to them, or lie next to them and look them in the eye while speaking. In doing so, your toddler has your attention and will listen to what you have to say.
4. Spend time together during the day
You are your child’s role model, and they always observe you. If you wish and expect them to listen to your instructions, you will have to walk the talk.
Having meals together or performing activities together is an excellent way to show them how you interact with others in the family. They will observe how you communicate with your partner and inculcate good listening skills and obey you.
5. Speak calmly
Although your toddler’s defiance and tantrums can frustrate you, as a parent, you need to be calm when speaking with your toddler. Toddlers struggle with sudden bursts of anger and frustration. Reacting to these with similar emotions doesn’t solve the problem and only makes them react similarly.
Speaking with your toddler calmly and respectfully helps them calm down and then listen to what you have to say (5) (6). Using a motivating and encouraging tone when asking your toddler to do tasks is more helpful than using a strict, stern tone.
6. Give simple instructions
Toddlers have a short attention span. When asking your toddler to do something, keep your instructions short, direct, clear, and specific. This way, they will not just listen to what you’ve to say but also follow them through.
Give direct and simple instructions rather than giving them a list of instructions. For example, saying “Please clear your toys” is more effective than saying, “Pick up your toys, turn off the TV, and come here.”
7. Follow through with your instructions quickly
When you instruct or ask your toddler to do something, you must follow through quickly. For example, if you have asked your toddler to put their plate away in the sink, but they haven’t done it yet, you can guide them to the sink. This way, your toddler knows your instructions have to be followed through quickly.
8. Reinforce your message
Toddlers can be stubborn. If they decide not to listen to you, they won’t. To get your toddler to listen to you, you will need to reinforce your message directly or subtly. For example, if you have been asking your child to put away their toys, instead of repeating “Put your toys in the basket,” you can be more subtle and say, “How about you put your toys in the basket, so we can go play in the garden?”
9. Give advance notice
It’s time to go back home, but your toddler is still playing with their friends. When you insist on going home, your toddler suddenly throws a tantrum and refuses to come home with you.
To avoid these instances, you can give your toddler advance notice. You could say “Let’s stay here for ten more minutes, and then, we’ll go home.” Although your toddler is quite small to understand the concept of time, they will be better prepared to follow your instruction when the time comes.
10. Give doable and realistic instructions
For a toddler, their toys form a large part of their life. When you ask them to put away their toys to eat, sleep, or go out, they might outright refuse to do so. To get them to listen, you can give them instructions such as “Put away your yellow blocks for a while, and you can play with them later.” Such instructions are not just doable but also realistic.
11. Be creative
It is common for parents to think that yelling will make the child listen to them. However, this doesn’t always work. In the case of a toddler, it is a good idea to motivate them in different innovative ways to perform activities that you wish them to do. For example, you could play a clean-up song when you want them to put their toys away.
12. Provide Information
Slightly older toddlers might be interested to know why you have asked them to do something. Offering information relevant to the instruction might motivate them to do it. For example, if you are heading out for dinner, and you have asked your toddler to clear up their toys, but they refuse to listen, you can tell them you want them to clear up their toys so you can all head out. This information might be a source of motivation for your toddler to listen to your instructions.
13. Listen to them
By listening to your toddler more often, you are letting them know that they are worthy of your attention, and you care for what they say (7). In doing so, you are also communicating to your toddler that they should also pay attention to what you say when you do.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. At what age do toddlers understand discipline?
According to experts, most children start the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior from around three years of age (8). Parents can help their children understand discipline better by setting age-appropriate expectations and clear boundaries.
2. Is it okay to scold a toddler if they won’t listen?
When a toddler doesn’t listen to you, you may lose your calm and feel like scolding them. However, you shouldn’t scold your child too often. Scolding can make them anxious and may worsen their behavior. They may also become defiant and start ignoring you (9).
These tips on “how to get your toddler to listen?” require your patience and understanding to be fruitful. Pay attention when your toddler tries to communicate to teach them the importance of listening to others. A toddler’s behavior is largely driven by their interests, needs, and impulses as their brains are still developing. Short and crisp instructions are easy for them to grasp and follow. Eye contact is important to grab their attention. Use clean-up songs or other creative ideas to make following instructions fun for toddlers.
- Toddlers may ignore your words because they are preoccupied or have short attention spans.
- They may also ignore you if you criticize them often or have inconsistent behavior.
- Giving them realistic and clear instructions, speaking calmly, and subtly reinforcing the message could help toddlers follow your commands.
- Help them work on their listening skills by reading a story or playing listening games.
2. Toddlers (2-3 years of age) – Developmental Milestones; CDC
3. Listening Games for Kids; UNICEF Kid Power
4. Get Down on Eye Level; The Health Federation of Philadelphia
5. Taming Tempers; The Nemours Foundation
6. Discipline and guiding behaviour: babies and children; Raising Children Network (Australia)
7. The skill of listening; The Center for Parenting Education
8. Discipline and guiding behaviour: babies and children; Raising Children
9. How to Teach Good Behavior: Tips for Parents; AAFP