How to Get Your Toddler to Listen Without Yelling (And Losing Your Mind!)

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Getting a toddler to listen without yelling can seem impossible in the moment – but it CAN definitely happen! Follow these tips if you want to stop yelling.

How many times have you yelled at your toddler today? 12? 50? Lost count?

Or maybe you’re currently locked away in the bathroom trying to calm yourself down before your head actually explodes. (That can’t actually happen, can it?)

No judgement here mama, I get it. 100000%.

But let me tell you… it doesn’t have to be this way. At all. I know it feels “normal” but I’m not the first to admit how absolutely exhausting it is to be yelling at someone every 12 seconds.

That takes a lot out of you by the end of the day. You feel crippled and like a bad mom (well, at least I did!).

I myself used to scream at my kids several dozen times in an hour. Sometimes I swore I could feel my brain rattle around in my head because my adrenaline was so high.

That is one thing I definitely don’t miss!

But I’m here to assure you – it doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope. I’m no expert, but I’ve been there. I’ve yelled, I’ve screamed, I’ve made adjustments, and I’ve seen things improve.

Keep reading because I’m going to share those with you. My goal for this post is to give you some hope along with tools to help things change in your household.

Deep breaths mama, you got this.

when do toddlers start listening?

Toddlers are strange little creatures, aren’t they? They test limits, push our buttons, and can make life a bit more difficult at times. We just want them to listen to us – FOR ONCE.

But I’m sorry to say that the idea of listening without resistance never really happens.

In fact, according to Dr. Deborah MacNamara, humans are hardwired to resist or oppose what we are being told. The best thing you can do is to not take it personally and expect that response.

Now having said that… you can expect toddlers to “listen” by as little as 18 months old.

Kids will naturally have the desire to listen to those they feel more connected to. (I’ll get to that more a little later.)

what are reasonable expectations for toddlers?

One thing I myself have been guilty of, and have noticed others doing as well, is expecting far too much from a toddler. This usually stems from not understanding how the brain of a toddler works and operates.

This can lead to us responding in inappropriate ways, too. Putting a toddler in timeout before they are able to grasp the concept will yield minimal, if any, results, for example.

Having the right expectations from your toddler will have huge benefits.

toddlers are driven by emotion

This goes without saying but toddlers have HUGE emotions. They are so new to the world and all its wonders and they are just starting to explore everything around them.

What you deem as silly can feel like a HUGE deal to them. They feel those emotions very strongly in their bodies at this age. The best thing we can do is guide them into coping with those emotions (rather than punishing them for it).

In the book The Whole-Brain Child, they explain that toddlers primarily operate with the right side of the brain (emotion) and neglecting to use the left side of the brain (logic).

It’s our job to help them use both in a healthy way.

toddlers do not have impulse control

Because toddlers are primarily operating with emotion, they have very little, if any, impulse control. All they know is what they FEEL and what they WANT in that moment.

This is why redirection works so well at this age! Rather than yelling at them for yanking the toy out of sisters hand AGAIN – redirect them to another toy they can have instead. They’ll forget all about the other toy rather quickly.

tips to get your toddlers to listen

They’re driven by emotion and have no impulse control – so all hope is lost right? NOPE!

In fact, there is quite a few things you can do to get those toddlers to listen. It does take some work, but reaps HUGE benefits as they get older.

ensure everyone is calm

When we yell, we are practically throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum. We are displaying that losing our cool is an acceptable response to anger.

I don’t know about you… but that is not the behavior I want to display. I want to teach them how to cope with strong feelings and manage them in a healthy way.

Not to mention it is hard to handle an escalated situation when you’re all worked up.

RELATED: Self-Care for New Parents That ACTUALLY Works!

When you have big feelings, you are less likely to be able to listen to those around you and will be very REACTIVE. This is said to be true of not only adults, but children as well. If THEY are upset, they will not be able to listen.

So what do you do? CALM YOURSELF DOWN. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Remove yourself from the situation and return in a few minutes
  • Practice some deep breathing and meditation
  • Suggest a moment of silence for everyone to calm the big feelings
  • Have a “time in” where you just hug on each other until everyone is calm again

This is only a few suggestions – do what works for YOU! You can do this alone or together, whichever you’d prefer.

make sure all needs are met

Do you know what happens when you’re tired? Hungry? Over-stimulated? Under-stimulated? Have a lot of energy bottled up?


And an emotional little person cannot possibly make sound decisions, much less listen to requests being asked of them.

So first and foremost… make sure all needs are met before you get up in arms that your child is not listening to you. Maybe they need a nap, a snack (this is a big one for my toddlers!), some outside play time, or some sensory play (this really tends to calm my middle child).

In fact, this happened just the other day in our home. I had this brilliant idea to bump up bedtime to try and “pick my battles” regarding how bright it is outside at their usual time of 6:30pm.

Well… this backfired when I had a 4-year-old wake up at the SAME TIME but lost about 2 hours of sleep. She was a screaming crying emotional mess. We could have spent all day screaming at each other back and forth.

RELATED: How to Create a Calming Bedtime Routine for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Instead I would hold her throughout the morning until it clicked that she likely was very overtired. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a nap since she NEVER takes naps…

But she got a good 2 hour nap and she was her happy self again! Problem solved.

Sometimes our defiant little children are struggling with something they can’t put words to.

connect with your toddler

You probably noticed from the previous point that I sat and just held her… aka I connected. Before we make requests from them, we need to connect.

Children naturally won’t want to listen – UNLESS they feel connected to you.

All you need to do is stop, acknowledge their feelings, AND THEN pivot to the request you’re making. They are more likely to listen at this stage and they feel heard, too.

An example would be if your little just DOES NOT want to stop playing to eat lunch. You could yell at him to put it down and sit at the table…. OR you could change the conversation to be a bit more effective and connect with them.

Instead you could say something like, “I see you’re having so much fun! It’s sad to have to stop playing, isn’t it?” and hug on them for a bit until you have their attention.

Proceed with, “How about we fill our bellies with some yummy lunch and then you can play some more. Can you go sit down at the table please?”

This way you are connecting and acknowledging how they feel so they feel HEARD. You proceed by offering a solution and requesting them to go sit down for lunch.

give your toddler choices

Another great way to navigate this is by offering CHOICES. This is so they don’t feel like you control every last thing in life and they have no say. This can be very difficult for children.

Bouncing off the previous interaction, you could also ask if they want to help you clear the table or sit down and wait. This way, they have a CHOICE in how you proceed.

Or you could ask them what color plate they want, if they want to play or go outside after lunch, etc. (Just be careful not to offer TOO MANY choices or it will confuse them!)

final thoughts

It’s important to understand how the brain of a toddler works so we can have realistic expectations. Understanding how they are likely to respond is a great first step – especially when it comes to how emotional they are and lack impulse control.

We can then try our best to make sure everyone is calm, needs are met, we connect with them, and offer choices.

Sure, it’s not a quick fix for EVERY situation, but it can really provide benefits in the longterm. It’s not a quick fix, but sets them up for later in life, and that’s what we REALLY want, isn’t it?

Are you a yeller in recovery like me? What have you done to get your toddler to listen without yelling?

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