5 Tips for Teaching Toddlers to Listen

5 Tips for Teaching Toddlers to Listen

Expert offers advice to moms aiming to teach their toddler to listen better.


By: Maressa Brown

Toddlers have quite the “bad” reputation for not listening to their parents. While this is just representative of the developmental phase kids go through as they bridge the gap between babyhood and being a big kid, it’s no doubt frustrating at times. Thankfully, there are more than a handful of tricks parents can try to teach their toddlers how to pay better attention and become a good listener, which will not only be a boon for your child’s relationships but also help positively shape their future for years down the road.

A study out of Oregon State University found that the most relevant predictor of later academic success was whether toddlers were taught social skills , such as listening, paying attention, and how to follow directions at their young age. (And these skills mattered even more than the early introduction of mathematics or second languages!) Here, 5 ways to teach your toddler the skills they need to be a great listener.

1. Play a game. Believe it or not, certain active games we think of as simply a rite of passage as a kid, like Simon Says and Red Light/Green Light, actually serve to foster “self-regulation” skills, according to research published in Early Childhood & Development. A child’s ability to listen, pay attention, follow through on a task, and remember instructions all falls under self-regulation skills.

2. Be a role model. “Model good listening skills by listening to your child attentively,” advises Vicki Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting. “NO multitasking. Make eye contact. Ask questions that require an answer. Instead of talking at [them], engage the child with questions. This will promote communication skills, not just listening skills.”

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3. Reinforce your message – non-verbally. You might think that teaching your child how to listen better would require, well, talking. Not necessarily! “Toddlers learn by doing over and over again,” explains Hoefle. She recommends parents try the “put it in, take it out” exercise: “If you are trying to teach kids to put their toys away, you do it without talking,” she explains. “The child takes a toy out, and as soon as they start to move away from the toys, you show them how to put the toys back. Each time they start to walk away, you merely walk them back and show them how to put the toys back.”

4. Be clear and authoritative. Instead of giving your toddler a choice (“Can you please get in the car seat now, sweetheart?”), you want to make a strong, clear, and, of course, kind statement, such as, “It’s time to get in your car seat, honey.” Phrasing a directive in a question only serves to confuse your toddler, if they don’t actually have a choice in the matter. On the other hand, if they do have a choice – for example, in the color of their sippy cup – it’s best to offer just two options, so as to keep it simple.

5. Practice what you preach. You want your little one to know that you mean what you say, and you’re not in the habit of making empty threats. For instance, if you want your toddler to eat their dinner, Hoefle advises moms make that request in a “firm and kind voice.” It should only take asking once before you follow through with action, such as placing them in their high chair. If bad behavior crops up, there should be a consequence for that, as well. “If they throw their food off the high chair, it means the meal is over,” she says. “Take them down, and then let them learn from the action.”

What strategies have helped you teach your toddler to listen better?


Maressa Brown is a senior staff writer for
The Stir. She loves writing about and reading up on health/fitness, relationships, and pop culture – preferably on a beach somewhere.

Image ©iStock.com/Marina_Di

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