London, SW18
07940 176121

Encouraging Toddlers To Listen

Encouraging Toddlers To Listen

It is really normal for toddlers not to listen.

I firmly believe that reassurance is key because a lot of parents come to me and feel that their toddler is the only one who isn’t listening. I promise you that this is not the case: it’s very normal for toddlers not to listen at times.

Please never feel that it’s only your toddler!

One of the main reasons for not behaving as you’d always like them to – including not listening – would actually be that their brain is not fully developed. Your toddler lacks one of the most important things for listening: impulse control. This is the ability to control their behaviour and base it on a feeling. For example, if you felt angry at me for having said something to you, maybe your impulse is to say “I’m angry, I want to lash out” but your rational brain would tell you not to do that. Your toddler, who might have that feeling if they’re cross because a toy has been taken away from them, their impulse tells them to lash out. This is because their impulse control is not functioning properly at the toddler stage and this is really normal.

The pre-frontal cortex in the brain is responsible for lots of different brain processes, which include impulse control, planning, problem, solving, memory, personality, empathy and reasoning – and I imagine this is a list of things that do not sound like your toddler! They’re not able to do these things and that’s normal, because their pre-frontal cortex is not yet developed.

Impulse control doesn’t fully develop to between age 3 and 7 years of age or so.

Understanding why they might behave in a certain way is vital in us knowing what they’re capable of doing at their stage of development. It’s not to say that they’re not always being naughty on purpose, as they will all have those moments, but ultimately you will find the lack of impulse control is to blame in many situations.

What can you do to help with listening?

I try to come at parenting from a positive approach. I try hard to be as positive as possible and, at the beginning, I’d always rather go for the positive techniques to encourage them to listen and, therefore, do as you say.

Praise is hugely important. Every time your toddler does something that you’ve asked them to do, if they do that thing in that moment and they were able to listen, then if you really focus on that and you really praise them then they’ll learn that listening to you makes sense because they’ll get praise for it.

Clearly praise the behaviours you want to see again

Really describe the praise so it’s not just a “well done” or “good girl”. Focus on “great listening…I love the way that you….” – praising them for what they’re doing, when you ask them to do it, they’re more likely to realise they get positive attention. The more attention they get for something then you’ll find the more likely they are to do that behaviour again. Research shows that praise ratio is 6:1 – 6 positives to every 1 negative statement, for adults and children! This is a heavy ratio – I don’t expect you to count every interaction – but I think it’s a really good guide and a healthy reminder.

Also, consider the importance of having realistic expectations for what your toddler can manage to understand, not just of their brain but of the time of the day. For example, if they’ve had a long day at nursery and you get them home and ask them to do things – it’s highly likely they’re not going to want to do those things because they really are tired. It’s worth thinking about when you’re asking them to do things, they might be hungry or tired, and this will make them less likely to want to listen to you. It’s worth making less demands of them later of the day.

If it’s essential to make demands of them, here’s some techniques you could try to encourage them to want to listen.

Encourage listening with a creative command:

Turn a statement or a request “let’s go up for a bath now” into a bit more of a game. Essentially we are making the demand more creative, fun and imaginative which means they’re much more likely to want to do it again. Could you try going up to bath time like a superhero or as slow as a snail?! Make your request as creative as possible and make them want to do it because if you make things fun our toddlers are far more likely going to want to do it!

Speak to children on eye-level:

Because we’re busy parents, it’s realistic that a lot of the statements and requests we give to our toddlers are from across the room and not face to face. They may be in a different room to us. Touching an arm, getting down to your child’s level and ask them nicely “let’s go and get your shoes on now, it’s time to get out” you will have a much more positive response than shouting across the kicthen counter top at them. Have a think about your tone of voice, this is also really important.


Warnings are a good way to set your toddler up to react positively to you. Small sand timers can be really helpful when you’re asking them to do something because, by showing them that there’s going to be a change of activity, you’re allowing them time to process the change. For example, if you want them to finish watching TV and go to brush their teeth, pop the sand timer on and from that warning they’re much more likely to switch it off and comply. Helping them want to listen is such a positive way of supporting them with changes of activity.

If you are struggling with behaviour or would like more of an understanding of what is happening for your toddler, please do take a look at my Toddler Behaviour course.


Leave a Reply