How To Get A Toddler To Listen Without Yelling In 12 Steps!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 09/26/22 •  9 min read  •  Toddler » Toddler Boundaries

Do you have a defiant and troublesome toddler who will not listen to anything you say no matter how many offers, pleas and options you try?

…And it’s always when you need them to do something important or to keep them safe.

So, how can we get a toddler to listen so you can go to the shops without the fear of your toddler’s inner gremlin reemerging in the middle of the toy aisle yet again!

Why Don’t Toddlers Listen?

Toddlers don’t listen for several reasons:

  1. They do not know how to listen effectively.
  2. They do not understand complex instructions.
  3. They are swamped by new emotions and their desire for independence.
  4. They are fully absorbed in their playtime activities.

However, listening is a life skill that toddlers will need to learn in order to function within our society as they grow.

How To Get A Toddler To Listen Without Yelling

So what steps can you take to get your toddler to listen and how can you teach them this essential skill without yelling or shouting?

How To Get A Toddler To Listen 12 Steps

1. Practise Active Listening 

My first step in how to get a toddler to listen to you is to understand that you must lead by example and listen to them first and practise active listening.

Listening to your children is a vital skill that parents have to learn and it should be mutually respectful

2. Get Down To Their Level

It is also very important to talk to your toddler at their level.

Words flying above their head are not going to have the same impact as those said directly to them.

3. Make Eye Contact

Eye contact will come when talking to your toddler at their level and by doing this, you will know that you have your toddler’s full attention so they have a better opportunity of understanding what you are saying.

4. Use Their Name

Using their proper name (not a nickname) is also a helpful tool for how to get a toddler to listen as it will get their attention and confirm that what you are saying is aimed at them, not someone else.

5. Use Facial Expressions And Gestures

Another top tip for how to get a toddler to listen is to make your communications expressive.

Smile, frown, take their hand in yours or gently rest your hand on their shoulder.

This secondary level of connection will help your toddler to concentrate and focus on you and what you are saying. 

6. Have Age-Appropriate Expectations

It is important to remember that your toddler lives in the moment.

Therefore, you need to have age-appropriate expectations when it comes to their listening skills and behaviour.

Take into account that your toddler is learning to deal with a host of new emotions and that being patient, changing from one part of the daily schedule to another or having to stop what they are doing can be REALLY hard for them. 

7. Offer Simple Solutions And Options

If your toddler is struggling to listen because they don’t want to do as you asked then offer your toddler an acceptable way out.

This can be as simple as choosing what pyjamas to wear, or saying that they can finish their puzzle before it is time to tidy up and get ready for a bath. 

It is really important that you are happy with the solutions and options that you offer too as you will need to stay present to see them through! 

TOP TIP: If you walk away from your toddler after making a deal, they will forget what you said and will have a hard time changing from one task to another when you return. Therefore, remain with your toddler until it’s time to move on.

8. Acknowledge Their Feelings And Intentions

Your toddler is more likely to listen to you if you acknowledge their feelings and intentions.

This is a top tip for how to get a toddler to listen.

If they have been behaving badly because they are angry or frustrated and you have had to step in to stop things from escalating, then say to your toddler “I know you are angry” or “I know you would like to stay a little longer but…” and then give your simple options and solutions to help them feel a bit in control.

You can also use flashcards or emotional toys to help your child portray their emotions to you.

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9. Keep Your Promises

If you offer your toddler a solution or an option then you must see it through!

Your toddler is more likely to listen to you if they can trust what you say.

10. Swap Saying”No” For “Why Don’t You Do… Instead”

The word “no” will instantly build up your toddler’s barrier and as a result, you can get a stubborn response or no response at all.

So, by suggesting an alternative to what your toddler is doing RATHER than just saying “no” or “don’t do that” your toddler is going to be far more willing to listen to what you have to say moving forward.

11. Remember To Praise

A great way to learn how to get a toddler to listen is to make a big deal of positive behaviour. This is because toddlers are emotional beings and will thrive off positive encouragement.

12. Pace Yourself And Give Timely Warnings About What Is Coming Up

And my final tip for how to get a toddler to listen to you is this…

Try not to rush. 

Toddlers hate being rushed and as a result, they will likely dig their heels in if they feel your pressure. 

Therefore, give warnings before it is time to go out, have a meal, tidy up or start getting ready for bed.

Giving time to get through these transitions and having the time to talk to them on their level in a calm and unhurried way will often save time in the long run and avoid a listening confrontation.

TOP TIP: Toddlers learn to listen to what you are saying equally from your actions as they do from your words.

How Do You Discipline A Toddler That Doesn’t Listen?

Sometimes despite all your efforts, your toddler simple will not listen to you at all.

So what do you do then? How do we move forward? How do we try to avoid a huge confrontation?

Firstly… Set A Time Limit.

If your toddler is definitely not listening then give them one last opportunity to listen by setting a time limit on how long you are prepared to wait.

This can be one more go on the swing, 5 more minutes in the garden or 10 more minutes playing with lego.

You need to say this to them on their level and get them to acknowledge that they understand what you have said.

Secondly… Follow Through With Your Plans. 

Next, you will need to follow through with whatever you agreed once the time limit is up.

This is CRUCIAL.

If you fail to do follow through on your word, then as your toddler grows up, they will not believe what you say which will have huge consequences later on!

Finally… Acknowledge Their Feelings And Talk About What Happened.

The most important thing after following through on your consequences is that you should talk about what happened after the incident by acknowledging their feelings but reinforcing why it is important that they need to listen and help them understand how to manage their emotions.

Give them time to process this information and give them space to talk and communicate their opinions too. 

For more information on how to discipline your toddler take a look at my post The Ultimate Guide To Child Discipline to learn more.

How Do You Get A Defiant Toddler To Listen?

Some toddlers are naturally more defiant than others and if you have a willful toddler you will have a tough road ahead. 

However, it is vitally important that you stay one step ahead and that your toddler understands that their non-listening behaviour is not acceptable.

As well as using the staple techniques I outlined earlier, if you have a defiant toddler you will need to take the following into consideration too:

REMEMBER: It is very easy to get into a negative downward spiral when you are dealing with a defiant personality so try to focus on good behaviour as much as possible.

How To Get A Toddler To Listen And Obey?

Parenting a toddler will inevitably involve you and them clashing over their developing desire for independence.

So when your baby turns into a defiant tyrant who does not want to do what you ask, when you ask and says “no” to everything that you suggest, remember you are not alone.

We have all been there and it will take some tried and tested tactical moves to outwit your toddler’s troublesome behaviour.

However, it is hugely important to remember that it is your job to teach your child how to understand and express their feelings APPROPRIATELY and to respect others’ feelings too. 

REMEMBER: A naughty toddler may be cute at first… but a defiant older child certainly is not.

Is My Toddler Deliberately Not Listening?

Toddlers do NOT misbehave or refuse to listen to you out of spite or with malicious intent. 

It is purely driven by their desire and emotion of the moment. 

Toddlers are also more likely to struggle to listen effectively if they are tired, hungry or overstimulated.

So by having a stable schedule that includes regular mealtimes, adequate daytime sleep and a regular healthy bedtime routine, you will help keep your toddler’s emotions steady and less likely to melt down.

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Paula McLaren

Paula McLaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the childcare industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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