You Asked, I Answered: How Can I Get My Toddler to Listen?

I recently took my son to his annual well-child visit with our family doctor. Part of the exam was to test his hearing, so the nurse placed headphones over my son’s ears and asked him to raise his hand when he heard the beeps. After the exam the nurse looked at me and smiled.

“His hearing’s just fine, Mom,” she told me. “If he claims he didn’t hear you then he can only blame his selective listening.”

All jokes aside, getting kids to listen is a common struggle for parents.  I polled readers about their top toddler parenting struggles and the first response I got was this, from a mom named Danielle: “Listening. Just plain old listening.” When I read it I chuckled to myself, because Danielle? I hear you (no pun intended).


The toddler years are especially difficult ones when it comes to following directions. They’re easily distracted and lack the verbal and comprehension skills of older children. They’re also notoriously opinionated and love to test their boundaries.

Here are 6 tips that I’ve found helpful for increasing toddler listening skills. Whether you’re new to this adventure or a seasoned toddler parent like I am, these tips can serve as good reminders.

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  • Speak in Terms They Understand 1 of 6
    Speak in Terms They Understand
    Sounds basic, I know, but we have to remember that toddlers' communication skills are not fully developed. Speak directly in simple language: "You put your blocks away" instead of "It's time to pick up!"
  • Connect and Then Direct 2 of 6
    Connect and Then Direct
    When it's close to the time for your toddler to move to a new activity, give him appropriate cues that engage him with you directly. There are many ways to do this— through song, by telling him you need eye contact, or even simply getting down on "toddler level."
  • Lower Your Voice 3 of 6
    Lower Your Voice
    As the parent of young children, I know how effective lowering my voice can be, especially when it gets loud. It sounds counterintuitive, but think about it: the quietest voice is sometimes the one that we pay the most attention to. Try it!
  • Use Positive Reinforcement 4 of 6
    Use Positive Reinforcement
    Toddlers love praise. Catch them in the act of listening and responding the first time you give them directions, and then praise, praise, praise!
  • Stay Calm 5 of 6
    Stay Calm
    When your toddler doesn't listen, try to stay calm and focused. I know it can be very frustrating, but getting flustered will only stress you out more and negatively reinforce your toddler's behavior. Instead, repeat yourself, this time using body language that gets your toddler's attention.
  • Be Persistent 6 of 6
    Be Persistent
    Sometimes it takes several times for toddlers to learn new skills. Persistence pays off!

More by Mary Lauren:

Alphabet Art for Your Toddler’s Room

Halloween Costumes Inspired by Children’s Books

12 Toddler-Friendly Trick or Treat Bags

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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