Toddler Troubleshooting Toddlers

4 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Listen… No, Really!


Toddlers are tough. They have tons of new skills and language. They think they have the same freedoms adults do. When you tell them otherwise – watch out! I’ve been providing parent training for years, but coming in and consulting for 2 hours is nothing like living with a toddler that will throw a shoe at you. Because you gave him the wrong cup. That he asked for. But I digress. Having my own toddler has changed my perspective. There are things that just don’t work for us. Here are 4 things that DID help:

  • Use a sticker chart. One way to do this is to play the listening game. We will get a token board or a sticker chart and for every time Gray independently follows an instruction he gets a sticker/token. When the card is full (usually start with 5) he gets to have/do something cool. It doesn’t have to be any thing amazing – for Gray it is usually Legos from the closet, a YouTube video, etc. things he would probably get any way but I will make them contingent upon listening. Each time he follows the direction, I always praise that was great LISTENING to Mom. When he doesn’t follow the direction I wait him out or prompt him. I usually start with fun/silly things (put the puzzle piece in, put this shoe on your head) and eventually add in less exciting tasks.
  • Catch them being good! Whenever your toddler miraculously follows an instruction, pees on the potty, stands next to you instead of running away, accepts no (basically any behavior you’ve been working on and want to see more of) make a big deal out of it! When they surprise you with good behavior – let them know! Tell them exactly what they did right – I love how you listened to Mommy! Standing next to me was such a safe choice! I know hearing “no” is hard. Thank you for staying so calm! If possible, throw in some tangible reinforcement (a sticker, a trip for fro-yo, a favorite song on the radio).
  • Plan, practice, prep and prime. I am a huge fan of using visual aids with toddlers. They also do well with scripts and when things are repeated to them. Gray sometimes needs a reminder before we get in the car, in the car, and as soon as we get to our destination. “We are going to go to the park and you have to stay close to Mom. If you want to go somewhere else you can grab my hand and I will go with you (always remind him what he can do INSTEAD of the bad behavior). If you don’t listen to Mom we will have to leave the park and go home.” While at the park if he isn’t listening I will give one warning (remember we have to listen/stay close/etc. or we will go home). If he continues to not listen, I immediately follow through with the consequence (this is THE WORST) and go home. After we get home and calm down, we always talk about what happened (we left the park because you didn’t listen to mom and you ran away). We will then talk about what to do next time and if it’s feasible we try again. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Follow through! I also make sure not to place too many demands and not deliver instructions when I know I can’t follow through. For awhile after we brought the girls home, Gray would stare me in the eye and hammer on the wall whenever I was feeding a baby (he knows he shouldn’t be doing this). We kept telling him not to and not following through and we started losing “instructional control”. When you lose instructional control, your child has basically learned what you say doesn’t matter and there will be no consequence if they don’t listen. So we just started ignoring him for awhile and he quit. Basically what I am saying is pick your battles. When you give your toddler a direction, you want them to know that listening is not optional and it is easier to just listen the first time than have to go to time out, leave the park, etc.

Those are a few of the things that have helped us. Gray still has his bad days, but overall he is a happy kiddo and listens pretty well. I’m not sure how much credit we can take for that but I hope these tips help! Is there anything you do to improve listening? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!


Comments (15)

  • I know how important positive praise is and it’s something I forget about often. I swear I’m less likely to notice if he’s being good because he’s not raising my blood pressure. It’s definitely something I need to work on!

    • Ha! It is so hard. When we are having a rough day I try to do it more – it seems to help 🙂

  • I am working hard on using positive reinforcement. My kids are older 6, 6 (yes twins, too!), 9, and almost 11. Punishment, and the threat of taking away things, does nothing. Even once they are older! I need to retrain my mommy brain to work on encouragement instead.

  • I LOVE the pictures – especially Sadie’s helmet and Grayson’s haircut!!!

  • Great advice! Www often have trouble getting my nephew to listen, and I am always on the lookout for new ideas!

  • great tips! I have found when I catch my kids being good.. it really works!

  • Its so tricky to capture the attention of an easily distracted and excited toddler, so I think its important to use their attention so well and efficiently to get the message across! These are some wonderful ideas that I can’t wait to test out on my two! Thank you!

  • I don’t have any little ones yet, but I love these tips. I’m in graduate school for family counseling and we learn a lot about behavioral techniques that can be useful with kids. These are spot on.

    Allison |

  • Great tips and I agree with rewarding with praise when they are good – I still do that with the little things that I didn’t even ask him to do!

  • Positive praise works so well…especially on my younger daughter. Sometime she is acting up so badly and we are constantly reprimanding her and seeing no change in behavior. Then when we give her some praise she immediately changes her personality! That’s all she was looking for.

  • I’m a huge fan of scripts! Gentle & Kind, Asking or Telling?, Listen & Cooperate, Try it again with respect, etc. Right now, ‘Two hands, two eyes” (put both of your hands in mine and look at me) works really well when I need SJ to listen to something important.

    • Ooooh! I love two hands, two eyes! I might need to add that to my repertoire.

  • Hello there This is an interesting post. I am in throes of the terrible twos and I am planning to try your suggestion about the sticker chart and catching them being good, the reinforcement should be really handy.

  • Great blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Will read on…

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