How to get your toddler to listen. Is this a riddle? Or a joke? Toddlers are notoriously terrible listeners. Well, maybe that’s not quite right. They listen to what you’re saying, but they just don’t cooperate easily!
Trying to get my two-year-old to do what I am asking of her can feel like engaging in serious negotiation with a terrorist. However, three toddlers in, I have found some techniques that seem to work. Sometimes, I have to try tactic after tactic, and one will finally stick.
Keep this list handy the next time you need your toddler to do something important… like, put on his shoes or finish his peanut butter sandwich. I hope there’s a winner in here for you!
Tell, don’t ask
Rather than give toddlers a choice, state what you want them to do. If I ask my toddler to do something, there is a high percentage chance she will respond with an emphatic, “No.” However, if I say, “Go put that book away, please,” she may simply follow instructions.
Big request followed by a small request
Try asking your toddler to do something you are pretty sure he’ll respond no to (even though you’d like him to do it). After he says no, follow up with a smaller request. For example, if the end goal is a diaper change, try: “Let’s go to the potty,” followed by, “Okay, then how about a diaper change?”
Keep a special treat reserved
If you have trouble getting your toddler to do something she regularly has to do, try keeping a special toy or treat reserved for the occasion. If she doesn’t like getting in the car to go to daycare, reserve a special lovey or book that she receives once she’s buckled in.
Do it together
If your toddler won’t cooperate, try doing the same thing with him. Brush your teeth at the same time or go potty at the same time. I just got a flu shot at the same time as my two-year-old!
When trying to get your toddler to listen, sometimes you just have to choose your battles. If she’ll only go to the store in her unicorn costume, just let her wear the unicorn costume.
Take something away to be earned back
Consider giving a favorite toy a “time out” and allow your toddler the chance to earn it back if she completes your task. For example, “Teddy is going to go up here on top of the fridge while we finish washing our hands. When we’re done washing our hands, he’ll come back to play!”
Let her be the leader
Your toddler might listen if you let her feel big and important. My two-year-old will often give me a hard time about walking from the van to the front door, but when I ask her to lead me, she is suddenly a pro.
Toddlers are natural helpers. Sometimes, language that has to do with helping saves the day. Try, “Can you help me by putting the book away, please?”
Whether it’s something that’s happening soon or months from now, toddlers will sometimes listen if there’s an incentive. Try, “You want to go to that birthday party, don’t you? Then you’ll come to get ready for bed.”
“Show” a baby
My toddler is a big sister. She will often listen if I say, “Can you show the baby how you…” I think it makes her feel so grown up!
Watch a big kid
On the other hand, if my toddler sees one of her older siblings doing something I want her to do, she might be more likely to listen. Try having your older child pretend to take a nap and see if the toddler wants to be like him and take a nap, too!
Give advance notice of the order of events
Try helping your toddler know what to expect if you want her to listen. “First you’re putting your shoes on, then we’re going to the park, and then we’ll pick up your sister from school.”
My toddler will often respond well to a sort of “dare.” My phrasing is, “You don’t know how to put away these blocks, do you?” and she has to prove me wrong!
Make it a game
Toddlers are more likely to listen if it feels like a game. Try doing something silly like tiptoeing together where you want to go, pretending you are in space, or playing Simon Says. The classic “I’ll time you” still works on my older kids!
Sing a song
Try singing about what you’re doing. You could make up a silly song that the toddler will be allowed to hear if she cooperates, or distract the toddler by singing her favorite tune as you help her accomplish the dreaded task.
Some things just become a habit if they’re done often enough. Have your toddler hang up her coat every time she gets home, and you may not even need to ask her to cooperate!
Let them do it themselves
If “me do!” is a familiar refrain, you might be best off just leaving extra time and letting the toddler do it herself. If it’s a particularly hard task, you can present it as a team effort. “Okay, you do the top buckle of the car seat and I will do the bottom! Let’s be a team!”
Choose between two alternatives
Try allowing your toddler to choose between two equally fine options so that she feels she was part of the choice. For example, “Would you rather have a turkey sandwich or a ham sandwich?” if you have trouble convincing her to eat her lunch, or “Would you rather wear the purple coat or the blue one?”
Along the same lines, give your toddler control of some aspect of what you’re doing. “How fast should I push you in the grocery cart?” or “Which shelf should we put this toy away on?”
Make it a contest
Make it a contest for your toddler to see which of you can do something the fastest or the best. (Hint: Let the toddler win!)
Praise and encourage
It’s good to get in the habit of offering praise after a task has been accomplished, but that doesn’t always help you get the task accomplished in the first place. As an alternative, try leading with praise: “You are always so good at walking quietly to the car. Can you show me how you do that?”
If your toddler is engrossed in some other activity when you’d like him to do something else, try to eliminate the distraction. just recently paused the video my two-year-old was watching and told her I would turn it back on after she brought the plates from the table to the sink as I’d asked. It worked!
On the other hand, try distracting your toddler from the unpleasant thing happening. If you pepper your toddler with fun questions, for example, she won’t be able to think about how unhappy she is that you are changing her out of her pajamas.
Hype it up
Whatever you’re going to do, make it sound really fun for your toddler. “We are going to go to a huge building with doors that open all by themselves! Doesn’t that sound fun?” Hopefully, she doesn’t see through you.
Enlist another adult
It’s one of the mysteries of parenting — toddlers often listen better to other adults than to you. If all else fails, call grandma or ask another nearby adult to tell your toddler what she needs to do!