Parent’s ask me about this all of the time and as a nanny I get it! The first thing to clear up is that it is absolutely normal for toddlers and beyond not to listen and you are not alone! That said, it is difficult when you have said something a million times and still don’t get the response you are looking for!

One of the main reasons that children struggle in that department is that their brain is still developing and is work in progress. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for a lot of the things that you want to see in your little one but sometimes don’t- skills such as impulse control, problem solving , planning and reasoning. They are not yet able to do these things because that part of the brain is still developing. So, when it comes to listening, toddlers are lacking a fundamental skill required to do so and that is impulse control. I’m not saying this is always to blame but it is certainly responsible for many of the situations.


The key to this this is that we want to help them want to listen. It's all very well them listening but will they be motivated to do it again?

I am going to go through some of my favourite strategies to encourage listening. The way we talk to little one’s can really help them listen to us, remember, they’re not doing it to annoy you they literally don’t yet have the skills to do it all of the time.

Imagine a time where you have asked your little one to do something-  to come away from a favourite activity or stop doing something for example. How did you ask them? What was their response?


Descriptive praise is literally what it says- it’s describing what it is that you are praising. It motivates and encourages co-operation so children are more inclined to listen. So, when your toddler listens to you when you have asked them to do something really praise them for listening. Really get down to the nitty gritty of what it is you are praising, be descriptive in your praise so rather than “ well done” try “ wow, great listening ears! You stopped what you were doing when I asked you to and you came to sit down for a snack, thank you.” It’s almost as if you’re shining a light on all of the things that you want to see, look and you will find them! When we praise children for the things they are getting right, no matter how small, they are likely to do more of those things! 


When asking your little one to do something or transition from one thing to the next try and make it fun, be creative! You can walk up the stairs like a dinosaur or see who can get upstairs first! When things are fun and engaging children are more likely to want to do it.


This one is a gamechanger! The choice of language we use can have a huge impact on whether or not your little one will listen to you or not. You need to use clear, concise and intentional language.

So, rather than, “ shall we go up for a bath now?” try “ It’s time to go for  bath now.” I know that if I used the first one the response would be “no!” You can also give limited choices like “ would you like a bath or a shower tonight?” Win, win!!


These can be used when it’s time to do something or transition from one thing to the next. Little sand timers are a great visual aid to use and help your little one process the change that is about to happen.  You can different timed one’s but I find 5 minutes is a good all rounder. For example, if it’s time to turn off the TV and come for supper then you give them a 5 minute warning “ In 5 minutes it’s time to turn off the TV and come for supper.” You then pop the timer on. Timed warnings don’t need to have an accompanying timer, you can simply give the verbal warning for example when you’re in the park. Rather than use “ In 5 minutes it’s time to leave” you can say “ 2 more slides” or  “ 5 more pushes on the swing”.


I know how busy life is and sometimes it’s seems far easier to shout from downstairs that “supper is nearly ready” or say from across the room to “ put your shoes on” but this really isn’t setting your little one up to listen as the chances are they are so absorbed in what it is they are doing they can’t even hear you! So, physically go up to your little one, touch and arm, make eye contact and give the instruction it is you want to give. I find that by asking them to look into your eyes and then repeat what it is you have asked them to do helps too. 



Give these strategies a go and let me know how you get on! I have used them for years and they really do work, not just with toddlers but older children too. We want to encourage children to want to listen and these strategies will all help.


If you have any questions or are struggling with your little one’s sleep or behaviour then please do get in contact with me. I offer a free discovery call where we can discuss ways in which I can help you.


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