What’s the Magic to Get Toddlers to Listen?

If you have a toddler, your daily vocabulary probably consists of “Stop!” and “Don’t do that!” with a little sprinkle of “No!” and “Get down.” Sound familiar? Do you feel like a broken record? Do you struggle to get your toddler to listen? Do you have the urge to check your toddler’s hearing?

More than likely they can hear just fine. The truth is, we talk to toddlers all wrong. I discovered this myself twelve years ago when I was going through my toddler mental health training.

Trying to get your toddlers to listen? Unfortunately we talk to toddlers all wrong. Stop doing this and stop getting frustrated.

Toddlers don’t listen for two main reasons.

Toddlers are literal creatures

No matter how smart and advanced you think your toddler is, they are all still learning to process receptive language. They’ve only been on this planet for a few short years, so English really isn’t their first language yet. When you start screaming things like, “Don’t hit the cat!” They are often processing “…hit cat” and the don’t is dropped completely.

Toddlers want to exert some control

The other reason why your words are falling on deaf ears is due to your toddler’s strong desire to do the opposite of anything and everything you say.

So when you make it clear you do not want them to do something, this is an invitation to do the opposite.

Toddlers are just figuring out this whole independence thing and even though they want to exert control, they really don’t know how to do it.

That’s where you come in. Every day, you graciously provide clear directions on where they can exert their independence. “Get down from there!” Oh, she wants me to get down, then I will stay up. “Don’t touch your brother’s toys.” Interesting, these toys are off limits. We’ll see about that.

These toddlers aren’t misbehaving, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing at that stage of development. Toddlers are thrilled to be finally vertical. They have legs that finally work and lips that finally speak. They are ready to conquer the world and your parenting. They have laid there hopeless and powerless for the last fifteen months and finally it is their turn.


You don’t need to metaphorically beat them into submission. You just have to parent smarter.

If you want your toddler to listen, tell them what to do instead of what not to do.

Turn “Get off the table” to “Put your feet on the ground.” Turn “Stop hitting your sister” to “Give your sister a kiss.”

I know that sounds completely weird. I get it. Who talks like that, right?

Twelve years ago, when I was studying toddler mental health, I thought that was completely wacky advice. And then I went home and tried it. Within days I felt empowered to parent my own toddler. Within weeks it was my favorite tool to teach parents when I was doing in-home therapy.

I know this seems like a very simplistic approach, but sometimes the best ideas and approaches are the simplest ones.

Try it, it won’t work all of the time, but I bet it will work miles better than telling them what not to do. When parenting a toddler you need every trick and tool under your belt. Here’s one to add to your tool box.

Do you have an effective toddler parenting tip? Add it in the comments and let’s grow a list!

Do you know someone in the throes of raising a toddler? Share this article with them!

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