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How to Get Toddlers to Listen and Cooperate

Feb 5, 2022 Ahh, yes. No one and nothing can compare to the strong-willed nature of a toddler. They want what they want, when they want it and they don’t really care if you say ‘no.’

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t totally picture my life being a 24-hour-a-day giver-of-snacks or a meltdown soother because I wouldn’t let my daughter pet the dead mouse my cat caught, but yet here I am!

If you’re like most, you’ve tried everything from the calm and deliberate approach to the frazzled raised voice and threats of screen time loss. Toddlers are an obstinate bunch and it can be difficult to get through to them, especially without yelling or tears (yours or theirs!). 

Luckily, here are some parenting tips for toddlers to, hopefully, make those sassy toddler years a little more bearable!

Why Can’t They Listen?

First of all, it’s important to understand why it seems our toddlers can’t/won’t listen to us when we tell them something the first time. As it turns out, there is quite a bit of psychology around this behavior. Kids’ brains are actually hard-wired to seek control. Think about it: most of their lives are completely controlled by adults, from what they wear to the foods they eat, so choosing not to listen is a way that toddlers are asserting their power.

Why Toddlers Can't Listen

So, here’s where things get a little tricky. We want kids to assert themselves and be advocates for their little bodies, BUT we also need to set boundaries as parents so that our kids don’t turn out to be spoiled, entitled brats. 

Get Down on Their Level

Even in therapy, kids react much better if you are down on their level. Whether that’s playing, reading, or having conversations. When kids aren’t paying attention, they usually aren’t making eye contact – which means they aren’t listening to you. A good way to get their attention and to make them focus is to sit down in front of them. 

This type of communication is much more impactful than hollering across the room or giving a command while your back is turned at the stove. You will be shocked at how your little one pays attention when you are on their level. 

Eliminate the Word “Don’t”

I’m totally guilty of doing this with my kids. It seems like I’m always telling them to not do something, instead of encouraging them to do something different.

As it turns out, our phraseology is actually making it more difficult for them to comprehend. Negative requests and commands require toddlers to double-process. That is, they first have to determine what we want them to stop doing, then figure out what we want them to do instead.

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Here are two examples:

“Don’t leave your toys all over the floor” becomes “Put your toys in the toy bin.”
“Don’t pull the cat’s tail” becomes “Give the cat a toy to play with.”

Say “Yes” More Often 

Toddlers have the behavior of asking for the same thing multiple times a day.

If you’re like me, the knee-jerk reaction is to just keep saying ‘no.’ That doesn’t make us bad parents. It’s hard to listen to the same sentence or phrase day after day without having a reaction. Plus, there are times when ‘no’ is totally justified and we have to say it. 

However, because our children are hearing our canned ‘no’ responses over and over, they begin to tune us out. For this reason, it’s important to look for opportunities to say ‘yes’ to their requests. 

Get Toddlers to Listen and Cooperate

For example, if your child wants candy at 8 a.m., you can say something like, “how about you have some chocolate for your afternoon snack?”

You’ve still accomplished your goal of not feeding your child chocolate so early in the morning, but this feels like a win to your toddler, too. Not only did he get a positive response, but you also gave him a choice to offer him even more control in the situation. Part of getting your toddler to listen to you is listening to them as well. 

Stop Counting to 3

Sorry parents, but this tactic just doesn’t work. If it does, it’s only a matter of time before your child learns that this means he gets multiple times where he gets to not listen to you before there’s a consequence. 

We are virtually ensuring that they will never listen the first time. I know it’s tempting to use this tactic when you are in the moment. However, do yourself a favor and discontinue counting in order to save yourself more stress in the future. Instead, employ one of the four strategies above.

It’s very easy to get frustrated with your toddlers when they aren’t listening, but it’s important to remain calm and remember that they aren’t necessarily meaning to be so defiant. Parenting is never easy and this time in life can be especially challenging. We will get through it, with a few more gray hairs, but we will survive!!

The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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