Your Toddler Not Listening? Try These 12 Tips

Your toddler not listening? Here are 12 tested and effective tips for your stubborn little ones.

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably at the last straw of your patience.

You probably tried nagging, yelling, bribing, threatening, but nothing seems to work. If anything, your kid is becoming more defiant. You probably googled at night, in despair, “toddler not listening tips”

toddler not listening

It’s probably extra hard to control your temper, especially if you’re in some sort of quarantine or lockdown.

I’ve been there and trust me when I say, I googled a lot of articles about it. What ultimately worked for me was reading the book “How To Talk to Kids So Will Listen”.

I want to share the tips I’ve learned from that book and from other articles I’ve read, offline and online. I hope my tips will help in making your little ones listen, without you having to yell or resort to bribes.

Now remember, all kids are different. Some of these tips might work on older or younger kids and some might not even work at all. I just want to share what worked for me. Hopefully, with consistency and practice, it would also work for you.

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Toddler Not Listening? Try These 12 Tips

Check if their attention is on you

See to it that they’re looking at you. What I do with my kid is I get down on her level, make sure she’s looking at me and I make her repeat what I said. I also touch her shoulder and wait for her to look at me. 

If your kid can’t talk in straight sentences yet, just make sure they hear you first. Get down to their level and look at them in the eye when you tell them something.

Set expectations

This has surprisingly worked well for us, so far. Setting up simple and reasonable expectations actually benefits us both. I get to have my kid listen to me and she gets enough autonomy to do what she wants within reason.

Say for example, before going on a playground, I lay out my expectations, a.k.a. rules – when I say it’s time to go home, it’s time to go home, no climbing anywhere without asking me first and to sit up when sliding down the slide, not lie down on your chest. Lord, she did that one time. I maybe turned away for like 5 seconds, saw her and had a slight heart attack but I digress.

I then ask her gently to repeat what I’ve said and that has been working out for us, so far.

Keep it short

As much as possible, I try to shorten “instructions and requests” for my daughter so it would be easier for her to understand what I want her to do. Keep sentences short and simple.

I do sometimes, rattle off without realizing it but I try to snap out of it and just focus on one instruction at a time. For example, if I want my daughter to learn how to clean up her own mess, I tell her to do one specific thing first. After she finishes that, then I tell her to do the next thing. 

Be playful 

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This was a tip I got from “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” and it hasn’t failed me yet. My kid goes to childcare and would wake up early in the morning to eat breakfast and take a bath afterward. Most of the time, it would only take us 30 minutes to get ready because there’s less convincing and nagging involved.

Making her go to the bathroom I would say is the most challenging part of the morning but most of the time, it’s just a breeze.

What I always do is invite her to go to the bathroom in a fun and playful way. I’ll sing a song, make it a contest, have some of her toys ready for her, tell her a story. I just try to make everything fun for her. 

Of course, I again set the expectation that we will just be doing a quick bath because we need to hurry for school. That has worked for us all the time so far.

Sometimes it’s hard to be fun and playful, especially when I’m tired and weary in the morning and I have to rush and go to the office.

For those times, I try to stay in the present and listen to what she’s saying at the moment. Then I ask her a lot of follow-up questions, then I relate that to bathing, motion for her to go to the bathroom and next thing you know, I’m giving her a bath! 

We sometimes just need to let our kid lead the way, instead of us parents, always initiating a fun and playful morning. 

Give them options

I don’t know why but my kid absolutely hates changing out of her pajamas and diapers every morning. I thought I tried it all – threatened her, scared her that insects might crawl inside her smelly pajamas, bribed her, but nothing seemed to work. 

Then I remembered a tip I read somewhere (it’s either from “How To Talk to Kids So Will Listen” again or from some blog) about giving choices. 

So what I did was, I asked her if she wanted to change her clothes and diaper in the crib OR outside the crib. And omg, it worked! 

Your toddler not listening? Give them choices. Kids like to feel empowered and giving them choices provides them that opportunity to exercise that autonomy, making them feel like they’re in control. So try providing them options if you’re having a hard time making them listen to you.


toddler not listening
“I’m smoking Mom,” said my then 2 year old..

This is quite alarming actually, but one day, I saw my kid put a pencil in her mouth and say “I’m smoking Mom.”

I was so shocked but I didn’t want to show her how upset I was. I know she occasionally sees some people smoking when we walk home from school but I never realized, she notices those things until this happened.

I was so worried that she might do it more often if she sees me reacting to what she said/ has done. 

So what I did was, I lowered my voice, almost whispering, widened my eyes and told her that smoking will hurt our lungs. That smoking will make breathing hard and that we might go to the hospital if that happens and we won’t be able to play anymore. I said all of this in a hushed up, whispering tone while putting up a finger.

She was all ears. She was looking at me intently and when she heard all the negative things that smoking can bring, she immediately left alone the pencil and played with another toy. And I’ve never seen her do it again.

I think that was the first time I ever talked to her like that. Maybe she sensed the importance of my words through my tone, maybe she has never heard me talk like that and she was equally alarmed as well. But whatever the reason was, quietly talking or whispering to her seemed to do the trick.

Give more information

I’ve pretty much got into the habit of trying to explain things to my toddler, no matter how complicated it seems. I know it’s not following the “keep it short” rule but I feel like there are circumstances where providing enough information and showing and explaining it to them is more beneficial in the long run.

Say for example, my toddler before would always insist on opening the kitchen drawers. I baby proofed them using some cheap contraption (now we have these latches) but she still managed to break a few of them. 

So what I did was, I explained to her thoroughly why I didn’t want her opening it. I made a big show of how her fingers might get caught if she opens then closes the drawers and how bad it would hurt if it happens. 

I told her it was easy for us to close and open the drawer and we won’t get hurt because we were grown ups and we have bigger hands. I also said to her that eventually she will be able to open and close the drawers on her own but she has to wait until she gets much bigger because for now, her hands are small and she might get hurt in the process.

I think I had to repeat myself 3x or more but eventually she left the kitchen drawers alone.

Avoid saying “don’t” or “no” often

I think in general, it’s just innate in people to do something that they’re specifically told not to do. If someone says “Don’t panic!”, you feel like panicking. If they say, “Don’t look!”, you immediately feel like looking.

So it’s understandable that toddlers will also feel that way. As much as possible, I try to say things in a different way. I got this tip again from the “How To Talk to Kids So Will Listen”

What they basically hear is the end of your sentence. So when you say “Please don’t stand on the chair”, they hear “stand on the chair.” 

So what I do is I tell my kid what I want her to do, instead of telling her what she cannot do. I tell her “We sit on the chair” or “We stand on the floor.” 

That seems to do the trick most of the time.

Also, as much as possible, I relax on other stuff. I don’t go off telling her what she can or cannot do all the time. I lower my expectations when it comes to cleaning so if she wants to put all throw pillows on the floor, then I let her. If she wants to put all the couch pillows in her bedroom, I let her. If she wants to put all the bedroom and couch pillows together on a heap on the floor, I let her. 

But when she wants to jump from the sofa to those pillows, that’s when I interfere and tell her it’s better to jump on the playmat.

Notice good behaviour

I don’t want to keep praising her for every good thing she has done as she might expect that all the time, so what I do is, I point out the nice things she has done.

For example, whenever she helps me clean the room by putting her toys in the box, I say to her “Thank you for helping me put all your toys in the box. I really appreciate you helping me out.” And that’s it. 

Another example is when my toddler is brushing her teeth. Whenever I point out to her that she’s brushing her teeth very well or that how great it is that she can go back to sleep on her own, she tends to do it more!

Sometimes, I’d say good job or nice work but most of the time, I just highlight good behaviour in a specific way, tell her that I really appreciate and she seems grateful to hear that.

Be consistent

Don’t change up the rules every now and then or it will confuse them. Be consistent, it will help your children know what to expect. They might want to push your buttons now and then but eventually, they will know what to do. 

Children feel more safe and secure when you’re consistent, that’s why routines with babies and toddlers matter. So be consistent as much as possible.

Be a good listener

I try to listen to my kid’s request so I can show her how good of a listener I am and that I expect her to be one too. I’m trying to teach her the Golden Rule – Do unto others, what you want others to do unto you. Monkey see, monkey do. Well I hope.

If she wants to have one more toy in the bathroom, I give it to her. If she wants to eat grapes, I tell her I’ll buy it for her. 

Then when I ask her to do something and she doesn’t listen the first time, I point out to her that I did this for her, I listened to her and she should also listen to me. I know, I sound evil and manipulative but hey as I see it, it’s a win-win situation.

Get a book

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Lately, I have been trying to teach my almost 3 year old how to brush her teeth. I know it’s going to be challenging so what I did was to get a book that’s related to brushing teeth.

I know she listens more when instructions are based on stories from a book so I bought – Sugarbug Doug and Why Should I Brush My Teeth.

It’s for older kids but we’ve read it almost every night – she’d always choose it for me to read!

Now it’s so much easier to tell her to not only brush but to brush her teeth properly. Of course, she can’t brush properly for a full 2 minutes yet, so I’m always there assisting her, telling her about Sugarbug Doug, and somehow, it works. She lets me brush her teeth properly.

By the way if you’re interested, here are my tips on how to make tooth brushing fun for toddlers.

When Your Toddler Is Still Not Listening

My kid isn’t a saint. If anything, she’s far from it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kid, I think she’s very assertive yet easy-going, smart, cheerful, and very sweet but I have a feeling she would be a handful some day.

And there are days when she just won’t listen, no matter what I do or say. At those times, I pay attention to what she really needs at that moment and not what I want her to do at that moment.

If she seems to be whining and is about to have a tantrum, my mind will immediately think of the last time she ate, is it time for her nap or what she was doing before, did she get overstimulated or overtired from that activity.

At that point, I know no parenting hack or method can make my toddler listen to me.

So I just roll with what she’s feeling and acknowledge it. I describe what she’s doing and I try to tell her what might be feeling. Somehow, that seems to shorten her tantrum. Also, I try to manage my expectations about everything. For example, if my toddler is having a bad day and we’re both running late for school and work, then fine, we’re both late and that’s it.

I don’t want to stress myself and my toddler too much, especially in the morning so I just try to manage my expectations.

Your Toddler Not Listening Takeaway

I’m not a parenting/ child behaviour expert. I am just sharing some tricks and tips that worked for my daughter.

I mostly got some of the above methods from  “How To Talk to Kids So Will Listen” so if you’re really serious about improving your communication skills with your little ones, I highly, highly recommend that book. That book is just such a treasure trove of tips with examples on how to talk to your children.

Also remember that your kid’s brain is still developing. They’re trying to make connections through trial and error, so try to be patient with your child. Let them know that you support and love them, no matter what.

toddler not listening? try these 12 actionable tips