How To Get A Toddler To Listen: 12 Genius Steps To Take!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 09/10/21 •  14 min read  •  Toddler » Toddler Boundaries

Have you ever wondered why yesterday you had a charming, delightful and pleasant toddler and today you have a defiant and troublesome gremlin who will not listen to anything you say no matter how many options, offers and pleas you give?

And it’s always when you NEED them to do something important or REALLY listen to you! Right?!

Well, learning how to get a toddler to listen will be your SECRET WEAPON to help your little one listen to you in a healthy and manageable way! 

It will also mean that 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?

Listening is a life skill that toddlers need to learn and for many little ones it is not an easy lesson!

Developmentally toddlers are the centre of their own world and your words can easily fall on deaf ears as they don’t understand the concept of consequences or why you are asking them to do something at any given time.

They will comply if it suits them or if they find it interesting but will just as easily act as if they have not heard a word you said, especially if they are engrossed in doing something else!

Logic Vs Emotion

The truth about how to get a toddler to listen is simple…

It’s a logic vs emotion battle.

The fact is that adults run their daily lives in a predominantly logical fashion.

We have routines that revolve around our mealtimes, sleep and our chores, grocery shopping and work. 

However, toddlers are emotional beings whose needs to satisfy their desires immediately are very apparent. 

Therefore, it is not surprising that you and your toddler are going to find it difficult to find a common ground when it comes to them listening to you at times!

So remember to take a deep breath and a moment to remind yourself that they’re not not listening on purpose… but that they function to a different set of rules at the moment. 

So how can we get a toddler to listen to us?

Well, fortunately, there are several amazing tricks that hack this emotional vs logic loop which you can use to your advantage!

12 Remarkable Steps To Get Your Toddler To Listen

So what steps can you take to get your toddler to listen and how can you teach them this essential skill?

1. Practise Active Listening 

My first tip for how to get a toddler to listen to you, is to acknowledge the fact that you must lead by example and listen to them first.

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

Have a conversation with your toddler where they get the opportunity to chat and talk about anything they want. By being engaged with your toddler through talking and listening you will make times when they have to listen to you easier to navigate as they will be more practised in the art of effective communication.

2. Get Down To Their Level

It is very important when you talk to your toddler that you get down to their level. Words flying above a toddler’s head are not going to have the same impact as those said directly to them.

3. Make Eye Contact

The next important thing to remember is to make eye contact. This comes with talking to them at their level and by doing this you will know that you have your toddler’s full attention.

Only then can you start to tell them what it is you want them to hear.

4. Use Their Name

Using their proper name (not a nickname!) is also a helpful tool as it will get their attention and confirm that what you are saying is aimed at them and is important.

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 and take their hand or put a hand on their shoulder. This secondary level of connection will help your toddler to concentrate and focus on what you are saying. 

6. Have Age-Appropriate Expectations

It is important to remember that your toddler lives in the moment. So you need to have age-appropriate expectations when it comes to their listening skills and their behaviour.

That is why getting down to their level and making eye contact is so important! 

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 is REALLY hard for them. 

7. Offer Simple Solutions And Options

Offering simple solutions and acceptable options is another great way to encourage your toddler to listen. 

If they are 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 or top 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! 

REMEMBER: 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.

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.

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. Try To Say No Less Often And Say ‘Why Don’t You” Instead

Also, try to use the word “no” less and use the phrase “why don’t you … instead?”. 

The word “no” instantly builds a barrier and can get you an equally 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

Always remember to praise when your toddler listens and acts upon what you have said.

Making a big deal of positive behaviour is hugely important to toddlers as they are emotional beings right now and will thrive off the 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 confrontation.

Implementing all these skills can be quite difficult until you get into the swing of it but once established you will find that your toddlers’ listening skills will improve along with their faith and respect that what you have to say is important to them.

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

How To Get A Toddler To Listen FAQs

Here are a few FAQs about how to get a toddler to listen that I have come across time and time again. So here’s a quick rundown for you!

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

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

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

Set A Time Limit

Well, firstly, 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 playing with lego etc.

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

Follow Through 

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

This is CRUCIAL.

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

If you want your child to listen then your words have to mean something and although on most occasions you will hopefully avoid a full-on confrontation, sometimes they are inevitable.

When these confrontations happen. Act calmly and do what you said you would do.

Remember, toddlers are emotional beings, but they need to slowly learn how to be logical ones. Therefore next step is also vital to help them learn from the situation.

Acknowledge Their Feelings And Talk About What Happened Afterwards

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.

2. 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 behaviour is not acceptable.

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

3. Is My Toddler Deliberately Not Listening?

Toddlers are more likely to not listen effectively if they are tired, hungry or overstimulated. So having a stable schedule that includes regular mealtimes, adequate daytime sleep and a regular healthy bedtime routine will help keep your toddler’s emotions steady and less likely to meltdown.

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

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

They can be so focused on what they are doing that unless you make sure you get their attention by getting down to their level and making eye contact they may have not heard you at all!

4. 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 troublesome toddler’s 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, but an objectionable older child is not. 

Getting your toddler to do as you ask can be tricky, but hopefully, by implementing some basic listening rules you will be on the way to helping your toddler to achieve successful listening.

Remember to do the following when expecting your child to do as you ask:

How To Get A Toddler To Listen Recap

The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to help your toddler to learn to listen effectively.

Remember to make sure you get their attention and always talk to them on their level and not over their heads.

Give them simple options and solutions, pace yourself and give your toddler time to do as you ask with reasonable and age-appropriate expectations.

Remember, listening is not for your toddler to do as they are told but about communicating emotions and feelings, asking questions, getting answers and so much more. 

Mutual listening will be the foundation on which every relationship that your child has will be based. If you want your toddler to achieve and benefit from good listening skills then it is up to you as the parent to set a good example by listening to them too.

Active listening is a great way for you to listen to your toddler. For more information on how to implement active listening and so much more, go to my post Why Listening To Your Children Is A Game Changer to learn more.

And until next time, with love and support, Happy Parenting!

PS: If you have any further questions about how to get a toddler to listen, or if you have any blog ideas you’d like me to write about, be sure to drop me an email at [email protected] and let me know. I love to hear from you!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care 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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