I walked into the bathroom and closed the door. I could still hear my kids screaming through the bathroom door, as my face fell into the palms of my hands. It was the toddler day from you know where. I wanted to say and do some really mean things to my kids. I reached my limit.
Do good moms even say things like that?
I told myself to breathe. Just breathe. It’s not easy figuring out how to make kids listen.
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Parenting a toddler is a great way to feel like you aren’t exactly winning at parenting. There are many days when you do all the right things, and your toddler still only listens about 50 percent of the time. You get down to eye level, make eye contact, use simple phrases and gestures—yadda, yadda, yadda—and it still doesn’t work.
I’ve been there.
I have a very energetic toddler who very much enjoys doing things his own way. He’s a little discovery child, seeking to learn everything about the world through crazy experiments like standing on the counter, digging in the garbage, and putting choking hazards in his mouth.
As I sat there pressing my back against the bathroom door, I knew I had to dig deep. I love my kids more than anything. But parenting is the most raw and utterly frustrating job I know. I needed to empower myself and my toddler to communicate better.
What’s realistic in terms of toddler listening anyway?
First, it’s important to set reasonable expectations. That was something I really needed to work on when I first started out. Even now after working on this for months, I still get really frustrated some days, but it’s important to remember what a toddler is capable of from a developmental standpoint.
So what percentage of listening is actually considered ‘good listening?’
– 1.5-year-old: complies with instructions 40-50% of the time
– 2-year-old: complies with instructions 60% of the time
– 3-year-old: complies with instructions 70% of the time
So if you are going through the day, and your toddler is only listening about 50 percent of the time, things are actually going pretty well. From a developmental stand-point that is ‘normal.’ Of course as the parent, it is much more fulfilling to have our children listen all the time, but hey, we gotta meet somewhere in the middle.
How use encouraging phrases to improve toddler listening.
Maybe you are in a place where your toddler isn’t listening a reasonable amount of the time and you would like to see an improvement. Maybe your toddler listens well but you would like to continue maintaining it. Either scenario is completely fine. The beautiful thing about listening is that you can work at it over months and your hard work will pay off. You will see results.
You are very helpful.
This is a great phrase to let a toddler know he is doing a good job without actually using good job, good boy, or good girl. It also helps toddlers get in the mindset to help others in need, in addition to helping them feel independent and capable.
You are a healthy eater.
This is a phrase I especially love to use when we are struggling with dinner time battles. It’s a great replacement to the phrase, “He’s a picky eater.” Sometimes the words we use end up as a parenting self-fulfilling prophecy. So rather than label a toddler as a picky eater, focus on encouraging your toddler at each healthy eating effort.
Show me how to ______.
If a toddler is doing something you don’t want him to do (like stand on an office chair with wheels!) you can say, “Can you show me how to do this puzzle over here?” Or “Can you help me read this book over here?” This is a great phrase to re-direct toddlers to a new activity without getting into a power struggle.
Can we try _______ instead?
Using the previous standing on the chair example, this similar phrase helps toddlers focus on what you would like them to do instead. So instead of saying, “Get off the counter,” you could say, “Can we try sitting nicely instead?” You could also modify it and say, “Sit nicely.” Modeling the behavior you want your toddler to obey also increases the likelihood of listening.
You are a hard worker.
Another great phrase to build self-esteem and encourage a toddler. This helps validate that he or she is doing a good job without using good boy, good girl or good job. Using the word ‘hard worker’ also helps toddlers learn that effort is important. That trying hard is positively recognized by mom and dad, and in the long run, this helps instill the value of perseverance.
Thank you for helping me.
Showing gratitude and appreciation towards a toddler is a great way to help them feel encouraged. It also offers positive reinforcement and encourages them to continue helping in the future.
Thank you for listening to me.
If your ultimate goal is to improve toddler listening then recognizing a strong listening effort can go a long way. Many toddlers thrive on positive affirmation, looking to mom and dad for reassurance that they are doing well.
You are kind and gentle.
This is my favorite, especially if you have a very gross motor developing toddler who likes to throw things, as well as hit and kick on occasion. I have a boy. Maybe it’s a boy thing. Regardless, reminding toddlers that they are kind and gentle little people helps when they start getting into the throwing, kicking, and hitting phase. It is also very helpful to say, “Show me how to be kind and gentle.”
You did it all by yourself!
All toddlers desire mastery. They desire to be like mom or dad or a big kid. This phrase is not only a great way to encourage independence, it’s also a great phrase to build toddlers up and boost self-esteem.
(One way that we helped our kids with independence was to use these printable routine cards during our bedtime, morning and mealtime routines. Huge lifesaver!)
I opened the bathroom door.
I stopped hearing screams from outside the bathroom door. Anytime a mother hears silence, you know it’s gotta be bad, right? I stood up, brushed the remaining tears off my cheeks and opened the door.
My toddler–a spirited boy–fell back onto my feet. Turns out, he was leaning against the opposite side of the bathroom door, and I didn’t even know it. I looked down, as his head lay atop my feet, and our eyes locked.
Teaching a toddler to listen will test you in ways you never expect. But then there are the days when your toddler’s head lands upon your feet and you stare back and know everything is going to be okay after all.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 37,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!
Want more on parenting?
- 4 Important Words to Help End Power Struggles
- One Simple Trick to Help Kids Fall Asleep Fast
- How to Say “No” to a Toddler (Without Actually Saying “No”)
- The Real Reason Why Kids Never Want to Go to Sleep
- 31 Printable Affirmation Cards for Kids — They’ll Actually Use
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