Frustrated when your child only responds to yelling? Learn how to get toddlers to listen without yelling and discover effective parenting tips to discipline.
“Don’t jump on the couch.”
“You can’t have another snack.”
“Stop hitting your brother.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at my kids and asked them not to do something… only for them to do exactly what I had just told them not to do.
If I ask them to stop banging a pencil on the table, they’ll look me in the eye while they continue pounding away. If I tell them to stay near me as we walk along a busy street, they’ll pretend they didn’t hear and refuse to hold my hand.
And I’ve had to tell them over and over not to step on books on the floor (much less leave them there in the first place).
The outright defiance is enough to make your head explode, or at the very least, make you think you’re not “disciplining right.” I was so tired of saying “no” over and over, just for them to still not listen. And the only thing that seemed to work was the one thing I had hoped never to do: yelling.
How to get toddlers to listen without yelling
If you’re like most moms, learning how to get toddlers to listen without yelling has been a challenge.
Maybe your toddler won’t listen when you tell him not to touch something, whether it’s because it’s hot, dirty, or it’ll fall over. You may have even tried putting him in time-out or making him apologize, simply because you had no idea what else to do with him.
How do you even reason with a toddler who ignores everything you say?
Yelling can “work” in the short-term. Your toddler will listen, or at least feel like you’re “being serious” about this issue. But over time, he’ll either tune out your raised voice and empty threats, or begrudgingly obey you out of fear or resentment.
As you can imagine, neither situation builds a healthy, loving relationship. So, what can parents do to get their toddlers to listen without yelling? It’s certainly not time-outs, spanking, threatening punishments, or other tactics you may have tried to no avail.
Instead, what you’ll find are respectful ways of communicating with your toddler that encourages him to listen. All without raising your voice at all. Take a look at these steps and see how to get your toddler to listen without yelling:
1. Tell your toddler what he should do
Our brains don’t always process the word “don’t.” Your toddler can hear “don’t slam the door” and already his attention is on slamming a door (whether he does it or not).
Plus, you can imagine how defeated he can feel when he’s being told what not to do over and over. In fact, his challenging behavior—ignoring, erupting in anger, hitting a sibling—could simply be his way to cope with the barrage of “no’s.”
Instead, tell him what he should do:
- “Don’t slam the door” becomes “Close it carefully, like this.”
- Instead of saying “Stop jumping on the couch,” replace it with “Get down before you hurt yourself.”
- “Don’t run” can be better said with “Stay close to me so we’re together.”
Granted, we’ll still say “don’t,” especially when he’s about to touch a hot stove or topple items at the store. But save those “don’ts” for when it matters, and focus your words on what he can do instead.
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2. Redirect your toddler to a similar but more appropriate activity
Let’s say your toddler keeps jumping on the couch, even though you’ve told him repeatedly not to. But what if you dug deep and asked yourself if the activity is fine, given different circumstances?
After all, you likely clap your hands and encourage him to jump at the playground. In his mind, he was just doing something you’d always been happy to see him do.
Why is jumping wrong NOW, he might think, when before it wasn’t?
Instead, redirect him to an activity that ties in with the initial behavior: jumping. His intentions may not have been bad—it’s just jumping, after all. Nothing feels worse than getting in trouble for something you didn’t even know was wrong.
Maybe you ask him to jump on the floor instead of the couch, or draw on a notepad instead of the children’s books. Simply telling him to stop jumping on the couch won’t teach him why.
Redirecting to an appropriate activity acknowledges that the initial motive isn’t necessarily bad. He just needs to do it in appropriate and safe ways, like jumping on the floor.
3. Give your toddler choices
The life of a toddler usually means being told what to do for nearly every aspect of your life. We decide what they’ll eat, the clothes they’ll wear, and when they should take a nap. As you can imagine, this can make them more likely to resist instructions or even feel defeated.
But what if, instead of simply telling him what to do, you offer him a choice?
By getting to choose, he’ll be more likely to follow through and even hold himself accountable, than had you told him what to do. He’s less likely to resist because he delights in having a choice, no matter how small it may seem to you.
Just make sure to stick to two choices—any more than that, and he’ll get overwhelmed into indecision. And both choices should be parent-approved: he needs to put on a jacket, but either one is okay by you.
4. Turn off all distractions
Sometimes, toddlers don’t listen simply because they have so many distractions competing for their attention. Your child could literally not hear what you’re saying—or if he does, he has too many thoughts to process and follow through with it.
Turn off all distractions that could be preventing him from truly listening and understanding your instructions. Switch off the music or television, or take the toy or gadget he’s playing with. Don’t do this with anger or frustration, but as a gentle yet firm way to make sure you have his attention.
Then, once he’s heard what you’ve said and followed through as needed, return the confiscated items or turn the gadgets back on. But at least you’ve made sure that no distractions are preventing him from listening in the first place.
As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:
“Imagine your child has a bucket that she likes to keep ‘full’ of you. Any time she gets to spend time with you, her bucket gets filled. When she doesn’t, it runs empty.
So when you give her your full attention, those buckets fill right up. And a full bucket means a child who can handle the small challenges in her day. Falling down after running or not finding her favorite car doesn’t seem so stressful.”
5. Change your toddler’s physical environment
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve disciplined my kids, only to realize that I also contributed to the problem. This is especially true when it comes to their physical environment.
For instance, they shouldn’t have drawn on the wall, but I also should’ve done a better job of explaining that markers are only for paper. Or I’ve told them not to tinker with the remote control, but I could’ve also placed it well out of reach in the first place.
For every time you tell your toddler to do or not do something, ask yourself how you might make it easier for him to listen. If you want him to wash his hands, make sure he has a convenient step by the sink. If he keeps grabbing the strings to the blinds, install a hook to keep it out of reach.
6. Follow through with natural consequences
How often have you given empty threats without following through on their consequences? If your toddler misbehaves, let her know what will happen if she continues to misbehave… and then follow through with it.
For instance, you told her to stop throwing the wooden blocks because she could hurt people or break things. You’ve even acknowledged that the act of throwing itself is fine—just not with blocks—and redirected her to the foam balls.
Except… she keeps doing it. That’s when it’s time to follow through with natural consequences, or consequences that relate to her choices and actions.
You can say, “It looks like you’re not ready to play with the wooden blocks correctly just now. If you keep throwing them, I’ll have to put them away for today. You can have them in the afternoon when you’re ready to play without throwing.”
Say this in a matter-of-fact tone. You’re not holding anything against her—you’re just letting her know what happens if she does a certain action.
And of course, the most important part: if she does throw another block, follow through and put them away until tomorrow. Don’t let her have five blocks, or give them back to her after five minutes of crying.
Explain that she kept throwing them, so it’s time to find something she can play with that won’t hurt others.
7. Walk away
Sometimes we think that the only alternative to stop yelling is to be completely calm and compassionate, all the time. That’s not exactly reassuring to the overwhelmed mom, nor realistic to expect any of us to do.
Instead, when you feel that urge to yell, simply walk away, multiple times throughout the day if needed. And yes, even if you’re fuming and frustrated. Walking away—however far removed it is from feeling calm and happy—is still a much better choice than getting upset.
Because when you walk away, you’re more likely to pause, reflect, and make better choices, than if you were operating from anger. You’re also modeling for your toddler how to respond when you feel triggered.
Learning how to get toddlers to listen without yelling takes practice. You’re not born with an innate calmness, nor are you doomed to yelling just to get your child to listen.
Instead, change your choice of words to telling him what to do, instead of telling him what not to do. Redirect his behavior to more appropriate ways of doing the same things. Give him a set of choices so he’s more likely to listen and do what you ask.
Turn off all distractions so you have his full attention. Create an environment suitable for him to listen (or at least prevent him from not listening). Then, follow through with consequences so he’s held accountable for his behavior.
And finally, know that it’s okay to walk away and take a break. Every power struggle doesn’t have to end on a high note—walking away at least gives you the space to calm down and handle the situation better.
By making these simple but powerful changes, you can finally get your toddler to listen… whether he’s jumping on the couch or banging a pencil on the table.
Get more tips on how to get toddlers to listen without yelling:
- How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling and Losing Your Cool
- Toddler Not Listening? 7 Things You Need to Do
- How to Stop Your Toddler from Running Off in Public
- Top 10 Toddler Discipline Books to Get Your Child to Listen
- 5 Things to Remember when You’re Losing Your Temper with Your Toddler
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