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How do you deal with a 3 year old who doesn't like to listen?

My three year old needs to listen. I'm afraid he may get hurt from not listening. What can I do to help him follow my rules?


Stephanie Neuhaus | Pediatrician

Stephanie Neuhaus

Getting your toddler to listen is a daily exercise that you must be viewed more like a marathon as opposed to a sprint. They are like the rest of us- they don't always listen.

Here are some simple strategies that if used consistently, will help your child become a better listener.

  1. Get the attention of toddlers before giving instructions. Get down on their level, get their attention and make eye contact. If they are engrossed in an activity, they really may not hear what you are telling them to do. 
     
  2. State your instructions very clearly. Do not phrase instructions as a question such as “Do you want to get in your car seat now?” Use clear, concise authoritative speech that is easily understood by a toddler. Choices are excellent for this age group as long as both choices are acceptable to you.
     
  3. Use immediate follow through and consequences. Never threaten anything as a consequence that you are not going to do. You will lose credibility. Consequences for not listening should be well thought out ahead of time so you do not lose your temper and say things you cannot follow through on.
     
  4. Give instructions that are reasonable and age appropriate. Telling a 3 year old to clean up his room, then walking away and expecting him to take care of it will never work. Break tasks down into reasonable chunks so they are not so overwhelming, then praise him for following through with each task.
     
  5. Make your child’s environment a child friendly place so you are not constantly telling him NO.
     
  6. Model good listening behavior. When your child or another adult is talking to you, be mindful that you are modeling good listening behavior. Your child is always watching you.
     
  7. Catch you child being good. Remember to praise your child for good listening behavior. We often forget to do this.

Good listening can take years to learn. Don’t give up! Consistency is the key!

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