Frustrated when your child only responds to yelling? Learn how to get a toddler to listen without yelling with these parenting tips.
“Don’t jump on the couch.”
“You can’t have another snack.”
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 asked them to stop banging a pencil on the table, they’d look me in the eye while they continue pounding away. If I told them to stay near me as we walk along a busy street, they’d pretend they didn’t hear and refused 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 burst 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.
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How to get a toddler to listen without yelling
If you’re like most parents, 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 might fall over. You may have even tried putting him in time-out, giving a warning, or making him apologize because you had no idea what else to do with him.
How do you even reason with a toddler who throws tantrums or ignores everything you say?
Yelling can “work” in the short-term. Your toddler might listen, or at least feel like you’re “being serious” about this issue. But over time, he might 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, we can focus on respectful ways of communicating with your toddler that encourage 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 she 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).
You can also imagine how defeated he might feel when he’s being told what not to do over and over. His challenging behavior—ignoring, erupting in anger, hitting a sibling—could 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, you’ll likely 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.
Then, when he does what he’s asked, praise him for doing so. You can say, “Yup, that’s how we close the door,” or “Thanks for staying close to me while we cross.” Positive reinforcement can encourage him to keep the behavior going.
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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 her 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 her to jump at the playground. In her mind, she was just doing something you’d always been happy to see her do.
Why is jumping wrong NOW, she might think, when before it wasn’t?
Instead, redirect her to an activity that ties in with the initial behavior. Her 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 her to jump on the floor instead of the couch or draw on a notepad instead of the children’s books. Telling her to stop jumping on the couch won’t teach her why.
Redirecting to an appropriate activity acknowledges that the initial motive isn’t necessarily bad. She 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 eat, the clothes they wear, and when they should take a nap. As you can imagine, following our routines can make them more likely to resist instructions or even feel defeated.
But what if, instead of simply telling your toddler what to do, you offer her a choice?
By getting to choose, she can follow through and even hold herself accountable, than had you told her what to do. She’s less likely to resist because she 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 she might get overwhelmed into indecision. And both choices should be parent-approved: she needs to put on a jacket, but either one is okay by you.
4. Turn off all distractions
Sometimes, toddlers don’t listen because of 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 distractions that could be preventing him from 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.
Stick to two-step directions at most. Tell him the first or second steps you need him to take instead of giving a long string of commands. By hearing simple, realistic instructions, he’s more likely to hear and finish one task at a time.
And lastly, get down on eye level to make sure you have your toddler’s attention. Active listening means he’s not doing another task and can truly understand what you’re saying.
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.
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 or promises without following through on their consequences? If your toddler misbehaves, let her know what can 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 now. If you keep throwing them, I’m going 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 letting her know what happens if she does a certain action. Losing privileges happens because of choices that she made.
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 a few 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.
With consistency, she learns that you mean your word every time.
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 parent, nor realistic to expect any of us to do.
Instead, when you feel that urge to yell, take a deep breath and 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 diving into intense emotions can take 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 her what to do, instead of telling her what not to do. Redirect behavior to more appropriate ways of doing the same things. Give a set of choices so she’s more likely to listen and do what you ask.
Turn off all distractions so you have her full attention. Create an environment suitable for her to listen (or at least prevent her from not listening). Then, follow through with consequences so she’s held accountable for her 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 changes, you can finally get your toddler to listen—whether she’s jumping on the couch or banging a pencil on the table.
Get more tips:
- How to Get Kids to Listen Without Yelling
- Toddler Not Listening? 10 Things You Can Do
- How to Stop Your Toddler Running Away in Public
- Top 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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