how do i get a 2 year old to listen to me

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Rachel - posted on 12/09/2009

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I'm going to be pretty straight forward in this post. So, I'm prefacing it with the disclaimer that I'm not putting anyone down, not trying to make anyone feel bad, etc. I'm going to relate my experience and give some ideas for what you can do to achieve a happier, more peaceful household with your toddler.

Getting a 2 to 3 year old to listen and obey is not that big of a deal if a parent has established him or herself as the authority figure. Our children are not our friends at this point and do not need to be convinced that they should obey us by reasoning with them, cajoling them, threatening with Santa and so forth. They should do what we tell them because we are the Mommy or Daddy and what we say goes.

Now, I love my 2.5 year old son; he gets lots of attention, play time with Mommy and Daddy, hugs and kisses all the time, etc. We started with setting boundaries early on and have had great success. My family is always so surprised when our son does what we tell him to! lol.

So, here's what I recommend:
1) Decide on what is and is not allowed. Things like tantrums, whining, not doing what you tell him/her to do within 5 seconds, etc. (I don't do the countdown though because it teaches kids that immediate acquiescence isn't necessary or important.)

2) Decide what consequences are appropriate for each action. We don't do much spanking and instead have thought about what makes more sense and/or is tied to the action. For example, when he was younger, around 1, he was in the hitting stage. We tried just telling him no, but he didn't understand. So, we started smacking his hand and telling him no. He understood the pain correlation and, as we were consistent, he stopped after a couple months. For tantrums, he has time out in his room (used to be his crib until he grew out of it) with no toys until he calms down and is ready to obey. Of course, plenty of affection after discipline is important to reassure him and let him know we love him, but will not accept the bad behavior. Never withhold love from your child as punishment. This is about discipline relative to the negative action, not punishment.

3) Since your child is already 2-3, tell him or her the new rules and the consequences. He or she may or may not understand what exactly you are talking about (though kids this age often understand a lot more than they let on). But, as you start enforcing the rules, they will get it.

4) Enforce your new standards. Most importantly: be consistent!!!! Nothing is more confusing to a child than a parent wishy-washy in discipline. It teaches the child that there are no absolutes, that the rules may or may not apply. And it just makes the parents frustrated and angry. I don't want to be an angry, exasperated parent! It is hard, sometimes, to follow through when I'm tired, hungry, short on time, etc. But, he is worth it. The peace in our home is worth it.

5) Periodically evaluate if the boundaries should change. As children get older, they are capable of being more responsible/safe and can therefore be trusted with more freedoms. For example, my son is now old enough to brush his own teeth without fear of choking himself. This is both a freedom and a responsibility. He has been taught what to use the toothbrush for and we expect him to not put it in the toilet (oh, he used to be so fascinated with putting things in the toilet! eww!), try to brush the dog's teeth, leave it on the floor, etc. He can get his toothbrush himself and put it away himself. It makes him feel good to be able to do things like Mommy and Daddy, to be able to have some control over his actions (which is what toddlers are all about) and to be praised for a job well done.

I call this approach "active parenting" - not that most parents aren't active with their children, it's just that a lot of parents are so busy that they are just living moment to moment and haven't taken the time to think through where their decisions about training and discipline are taking them. I was always so sad when watching the Nanny 911 and similar shows and wondered, "How do these parents let it get to this point?" My conclusion was that most of them probably hadn't prepared themselves, educated themselves, and thought about what they wanted their home atmosphere to be like and how they wanted their children to behave. Not that children are robots to be programmed - not at all!! But, if we take the time to read and educate ourselves on childhood development, understanding what our children need, how to help them develop their sense of self and their ability to control their impulses and actions, to respect authority (such a problem in society today), and to love and respect their parents, then we are one step closer to family harmony. Now, if I can do this as a mom who works full time (went back to work at 5 weeks), does most of the cooking and cleaning, manages the finances, has a back problem that makes it very difficult and painful to do all these things, and still makes time for husband and child - then anyone can do this! All it takes to motivate me is my knowledge that I don't want to live through the chaos and pain of disobedient, mouthy children who throw tantrums, yell, throw toys, hurt their siblings, don't respect other's property, disturb people in public, and treat me or my husband with disrespect - I can't bear the thought of having to deal with all these things, which seem to be so "normal" in today's society. These are avoidable and starting now makes life so much more enjoyable and makes me so much more connected with my toddler.

My child is not perfect in any way, shape or form. He challenges us on a daily basis. He is always pushing the boundaries. But, that is what toddlers do. The difference is that he listens to us most of the time because of our approach to discipline. There is no room for argument at this stage. Right now, our authority is absolute. This is a dual dictatorship (albeit a very loving and fun one), until we feel he is ready to be more a part of the decision making process. And the results are clear - a friendly, happy, secure, obedient, playful and active 2.5 year old.

So, check out some books on parenting at the library, or read reviews online for good books that fit your religious background and family philosophy and pick them up at a discount book store or Amazon. Take the time to read about child development needs, to set your expectations on what is and is not possible at this stage and future stages (for example, the experts - even the conservative ones - agree that a toddler can reasonably be expected to obey 2/3 of the time. so, as parents, we pick our battles on the important ones that we feel need to be enforced, like tantrums, hitting, spitting, etc.). Then take the time to think about what will work for your child (every child is different!). And then be consistent. You will be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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18 Comments

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Sonia - posted on 01/22/2013

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I normally use distraction like if my daughter starts doing something she's not supposed to I will get her a bag of crisps and say come to mummy lets have the crisps and see if you can spot a bird outside. In the shopping centre I always have a drink for her or a dummy food she likes if you divert their attention to something they like it works a treat.

[deleted account]

hi , i think santa is a gud idea ,but dont u think u r bringing in materialisim in ur kids ..may be u may limit it to hugs and encouragment ..have u tried hugging and time out ..it really works :)

Brodie - posted on 12/14/2009

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my 2 yr was not listening to me at all... ive just started the hole... get down too his level.. and i tell him too turn his listening ears on!! once he has turned them on i make him put his hands by his side and look at me.. and its working! ( if his listening ears are broken.. then he has too go too his room... dont know if itll work for u but its worth a try..

Carolee - posted on 12/11/2009

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Time outs, consistancy, and looking them in the eyes when you talk to them. Get on their level and explain (in simple terms) what they need to be doing, and why they get sent to time-out, etc. It takes a few times, and they will push their limits, but stay consistant, and it should work.

Emma - posted on 12/11/2009

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My 2 yr old daughter, who is the middle child, just seems to be constantly in the terrible 2's stage. She is not naughty, just finding her own mind and how far she can push us. She had to grow up quick when Sophie came along,9 months, and now she seems to want to be as big as her big sister who is 4 but doesnt quite understand sometimes she is still to little.
All we do is pretty much let her try and do things explain to her if she cant and she plods on and finds something else. She is very independent and will play on her own with her dolls and teds. She only ever seems to have trantrums when she is tired or bored. Always mke sure she has plenty things to do and never shout at her, if u feel that your gonna crack, go into another room and count to ten.
Usually, they will do something so sweet and nice you forget about why you got so mad in the 1st place

Gemma - posted on 12/10/2009

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have u tryed takin fav toys away

is there sum1 they r always well behaved with if so tell them u will ring thaat person if they r bad.

sitting in the corner

most kids do start not listening at the age of 2,

kids always love a reward chart when they good they get a treat the board will help them 2 c when they r good and if u giv a treat everytime they r good it will make them wanna b good plus thay will get lots of praisewhich they always love,i am a nursery nurse and thos r the most helpful things to do.

Sam - posted on 12/10/2009

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my son is 18 months but he very forwards and going through terrible 2s already, he tends to run round hectic ect but ive found talkng to him at his level and making constant eye contact while talking helps and i keep doing this if he does not listen by the 3rd time then he gets put in his bed for a min then he usualy cums out with cuddles and kisses it took a few times but it got through after a while sam x

Amanda - posted on 12/08/2009

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yeah i have issues with my 2 year old daughter and listening as well. Some days I just want to scream! But I don't I keep my cool and get down to her level. I took her by the sides and make her look at me and tell her listen to mommy until she looks at me. Once she is, I ask her are you listening? A majority of the time she will say yes. I will then explain to her what I don't want from her or what I do want from her. Most of the time this will work. If she is having a really off day we use time out. One min per year of age. She is 2 so, she sits in time out for 2 minutes. During time out she tries to get out but the key is to keep putting them back into the time out spot. Away from everything they like...tv, toys, siblings, stuff like that. Everytime they get out restart the timer. It will take many times but eventually they do give up and sit there. Good luck!!

Kim - posted on 12/07/2009

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Honestly, no 2 year old is actually going to consider listening to you. You kinda have to get on their level, and get in their head. Explain things to them to the best of your knowledge and ugh, i dont wanna say this but.. bribing them seems to work. Get their mind focused on something else, if their doing something they shouldnt be. Or if you want them to do something and theirr not, reward them with small things.. stickers or lollypops. thats what i do.. it teaches them a lot of different morals and responsibility.

Christy - posted on 12/07/2009

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I take things from my son that he really likes when he won't listen and when he is good I give him the item back. Seems to me we are making SLOW but steady, progress.

Sam - posted on 12/06/2009

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i also tryed the santa thing, saying ill give her sum sweets if she would just do wat i ask also send her to her room but its like wat melissa said she knows wat buttons to plus it really bugs me that she wont listen

Melissa - posted on 12/05/2009

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My 3 1/2 year old wont listen either. I see no end in sight. He argues about the simplest things! I say black he says white. I say now and he says later....Most annoying thing ever! He knows how to push my buttons and he gets a kick out of it. Time out doesnt work, spanking doesnt work, and ignoring him doesnt work. I have to tell myself that he is 3 and is exploring his boundaries and testing my limits. So even though you may not think something is working, consistency is the key and eventually they learn that mommy isnt going to give in. He is getting better because he pushes and I push back and he has learned mommy always wins :)

Kevlyn - posted on 12/05/2009

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first i want to say good luck! I have a 3 1/2 year old that refuses to listen to anyone...no matter what we do...we have tryed the santa thing and she doesn't seem to care....we have tryed everything....most of the time i just want to give up, but i know i can't...i'm hoping this is just a phase that is taking forever to come out of.......lol

Lauren - posted on 12/05/2009

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I do the same as Denise with my 2yr old but call santa (daddy with fake voice) and get him to talk but this only will work around this time of year. The other thing I have found "usually" works is just talking. He seems to switch off when I raise my voice, I know it sounds common but try talking peacefully and quietly so they have to stop and concentrate on what your saying as opposed to screaming or continuing what they are doing and when he does it I make sure lots of praise.

Denise - posted on 12/05/2009

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You are in luck since it is Christmas time.... What really works with my 3 year old is that I programmed a fake number under "Santa" in my phone with a pic of Santa that is displayed every time I dial it....After I repeat something to her twice, I reach for the phone and dial Santa....I told her that we are BFF and he said call him when she is not listening and obeying so he can take her gifts out of his bag....Instant compliance everytime...

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