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How To Get a Toddler To Listen

Mom.com logo Mom.com 12/1/2019 Deborah Cruz
a little girl sitting at a table with a plate of food: getting-toddler-to-listen-featured © Provided by Mom.com getting-toddler-to-listen-featured

If you’ve known a toddler, you know that good listening is not a skill they’re born with. Like walking, talking, and crawling, listening skills are something that we need to teach, encourage, and positively reinforce. Knowing how to get a toddler to listen is about as easy as herding cats.

I work with preschoolers so I can tell you, without a doubt, little kids are easily distracted. It’s not that they don’t want to listen, but other things are more interesting, especially a screen. Here are some ways to get your toddler’s attention and hopefully, to listen.

Here are some tips and tricks to get a toddler to listen

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Resist the urge to repeat yourself

No one wants to spend their child’s toddlerhood exasperated or nagging. It’s negative attention that sends the wrong message. I’ve always tried to reward my girls with positive attention for listening rather than admonishing them for not. There are things we can do to avoid repeating ourselves to get our little ones to become better listeners.

Get down on their level

Don’t yell from another room. If you want them to listen, establish eye contact. Bend down or squat down and get her attention by engaging face to face. This eye to eye contact establishes a direct connection and your child is more likely to listen and feel accountable. “I used to tell my son that I had a secret, get down on his level, and whisper, ‘I love you’ — it always worked,” mom Bertha Tuskan told Mom.com.

Read to them

Reading out loud to your toddler is perfect for helping her learn to listen. My girls used to be enthralled and lean in to hear every word that I said when I was reading Mrs. McNosh Does the Wash. I read with voices and sound effects, and it truly makes a difference in engagement. Those voices make the words stand out. Also, keep reading new stories because once they know the story, they don’t need to be as attentive to hear what you are saying because they know what’s coming next. But if it’s a new book, they need to pay attention. Also, pro mom and preschool teacher tip: Whisper when you read some of the story. They’ll really have to put on their listening ears to know what’s going on.

Keep your voice down

Yelling is not the solution for toddlers or for parents. “Get quieter, not louder. Getting louder makes your blood pressure go up and makes you feel more unhappy or angry,“ Dr. Deborah Gilboa told Mom.com. “Everyone listens better when it sounds like a secret, so we get quieter ourselves and pay attention better. Toddlers are the same. Getting louder just trains your toddler that they don’t need to listen until you’re yelling.”

Enunciate

Tell them what you want as clearly and concisely as you can. Don’t ask— tell. Don’t say, “Can you pick up your toys?” but instead, “Pick up your toys, please.” There is no choice, don’t pretend there is. Nagging won’t work. Explanations won’t work with toddlers. You can even offer a reward for listening the first time. This teaches your toddler that listening to you has its benefits.

Positive reinforcement

Toddlers are easily distracted and completely enthralled by screens. If you tell them that it’s dinner time and they are watching cartoons, you may need to give a visual cue by pausing the show, walking over to them, and putting your hand on their back or physically walking them to the dinner table.

Follow through when your toddler still won’t listen

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Sometimes, even with all of the suggestions we’ve laid out here, your toddler still won’t listen. So, if you find yourself telling your toddler to do something and they don’t do it, don’t make empty threats. You’ll lose all of your parental credibility. Same goes with promises — don’t make empty promises. You’ll lose their trust. Try to mean what you say and follow through. Don’t buckle in the midst of tantrums or puppy dog eyes, not even under the threat of Calliou-level whining. Follow through quickly with consequences. Try not to repeat yourself with your toddler. Hopefully, this will condition them to listen the first time.

Inspire good listening skills

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Motivate your children to be good listeners. Yelling might get their attention and startle them momentarily into listening but this is not sustainable. Most toddlers will get upset and then you’ve got a 2-foot-tall loose cannon. Nobody wants that. Toddlers, like most human beings, respond better to a good attitude and positivity.

My girls used to hate to wake up and would ignore me. I started singing the “Good Morning” song from Singing in the Rain, with some altered lyrics, silly dancing and funny voice. They loved it and were caught up so much in my performance that they listened and got up every morning with a smile. I know it’s weird but it worked and there was no push back.

If you want your toddler to listen, listen to them. They see (and hear) everything we do, especially when we’re not paying attention. When you’re talking with your spouse, friends, or even your toddler, look them in the eye, be respectful, and let them finish their thoughts. Don’t talk over people and respond politely to people when they talk to you.

Related video: How to get a toddler to sleep [via Parents]

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