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4 min read

If you have ever been the mom (or dad) who feels like you are always yelling at your kids, you are not alone. It seems that many kids develop a sort of selective hearing to tune out the nagging of their parents. And possibly no age group will test those selective hearing boundaries more than toddlers who are just figuring out the delights of personal choice.


Instead of a constant wash, rinse, and repeat cycle with the same behaviors that are not working, try these behaviors instead:

Talk to Them, Not at Them

As parents, we make this mistake the most often. Children constantly hear us talking at them, telling them what to - and what not to do. Much of what we say to them is out of habit or obligation. Honestly, it is no surprise that they learn to tune us out.


If you find yourself repeating something that you have already said, stop what you are doing and take a minute to sit down and talk to your child. It only takes sixty seconds, but that interaction will be more meaningful than sixty minutes of nagging the same things on repeat. Plus, both of you will leave the interaction feeling calm and in control.

Set Realistic Expectations


Another trap that some parents fall into is expecting themselves out of their children. While you might have the intrinsic motivation to clean up after yourself or the restraint not to throw yourself on the floor when your pencil breaks, your toddler doesn’t. Remember that you are a grown person who has had years to learn how to manage your emotions. And let’s be honest, during a bad bout of PMS or a low blood sugar spell, and you still don’t have a handle on your emotions all of the time.


Keep in mind that your toddler is brand new to feeling emotions and they don’t yet have the understanding or control to behave appropriately when they feel strong emotions. If your toddler is on the brink of a meltdown and they have stopped listening to your words, now is the time for compassion - not consequences.

Choose Your Battles Wisely

Toddlers are particularly skillful at pushing buttons and testing limits. With clear boundaries in place, it is important to understand that you won’t win them all. Toddlers are just learning about boundaries and consequences and they are not going to make the right choice every time. Give them some grace anyways or you risk discouraging their participation altogether.


  • Offer a Choice Between Two Things:For picky eaters, try offering a choice between two meals or snack options. Instead of ending every mealtime in tears, your toddler can feel included in a decision and more likely to try the foods on their plate.


  • Prepare for Transitions: If your child throws a tantrum when it is time to go home, make sure you let them know that their visit is coming to an end soon. If you warn them that you will leave in fifteen minutes, it allows the toddler a little more time to play with the awareness that you will be leaving soon.


  • Use Gentle Words and Gentle Hands: Phrases like “stop doing this” or “don’t do that” are harsh. Humans naturally respond better to warmth, love, and a gentle touch. Parents often assume that their little ones know that they love them and that is why there are so many rules. The truth is that they don’t know this, they have to be told each time.

Practice Calming Methods

Talking through feelings is a good way to help your child learn how to process what they are feeling. Unfortunately talking doesn’t work for every child or every situation. Try rotating through the different calming methods so that your child learns a variety of different tools instead of just one coping mechanism.


  • Acknowledge Feelings: Whether you find the situation absurd or not is not important. What is important is that your child is feeling a certain way about it and validation of those feelings is sometimes all it takes to help them get over it. Instead of harshly telling your child to stop crying, try telling them that it is okay to be sad or okay to cry. Expressing emotions is healthy as long as we say why we are angry, sad, happy, or frustrated.


  • Take a Break: Self-soothing is a thing. It gets a bad wrap because some parents rely on it a little too much, but some situations warrant it. Plus, you won’t be around every step of the way so your child needs to learn self-soothing techniques. When a tantrum has escalated into hysterics and other methods have failed, it is time to step back and take a break. In a calm voice, let your child know that you are going to wait for them to calm down, and then you can talk with them. Give them some space and come back with a hug and an open lap once they have calmed down.


  • Allow Do-Overs: Toddlers make a lot of mistakes because they are still learning. Sometimes their excitement gets in the way and they break rules they usually would not. Remember, they are young and just learning to control strong emotions. It is hardly fair to keep punishing them with angry words and timeouts when they are having a hard time with self-control. Instead of getting angry and sending your child to timeout for the third time in ten minutes, call a timeout. Calmly remind your child of the rules and let them know you are going to give them a do-over. If they continue to break the rule, a consequence will follow.


What to Remember About Getting Toddlers to Listen

Toddlers may seem like they are not listening, but the reality is that they are probably just experiencing some sensory or emotional overload. If you begin to feel frustrated that your child isn’t listening to you - it is time to stop everything that is going on and simplify the situation. Make sure you have their full attention - and that they have yours. Explain what you are asking them to do and why - and allow them to retort with their frustration or confusion. Remember to always validate their feelings, but remain firm and consistent that they follow through with your request.