How do you get a toddler to listen to you?

Toddlers' wishes don’t always match what needs to happen, but it’s important to allow them to discover the world while setting firm boundaries.

 Illustrative photo of a toddler.  (photo credit: MARCO MILIVOJEVIC/PIXNIO)
Illustrative photo of a toddler.

It’s a lot of fun when babies suddenly become communicative toddlers. They’re entertaining and they show spirited personalities. From the age of 18 months or so, babies begin to discover the world and every experience is new and exciting. They start to explore and experiment, touch, climb, pull, speak and even successfully do things on their own, like building a tower of blocks. As they grow and develop they begin to discover their own needs and desires, like wanting to wear a certain pair of shoes, and their choices won’t be the same as yours.  

The hardship starts when they want to do everything on their own, decide for themselves, choose on their own and they struggle with just about everything. They examine your reactions and those nearby, know how to resist and say a lot of "don’t want.”

Dana Hovesh, a certified parent counselor at the Adler Institute and the Education Ministry, says to remember that despite the challenges, this is how kids develop independence and responsibility, that making choices strengthens their sense of self-worth and their self-confidence.

It’s important to note that even at a young age, your reactions will greatly affect the development of a child's self-image and self-esteem.

That's why how you educate is important. So, how can you teach kids to cooperate while validating their choices?

 Toddler and mother talking (credit: INGIMAGE) Toddler and mother talking (credit: INGIMAGE)

Change your perception

First, understand that this developmental period strengthens and empowers kids. They seek independence, they want to feel capable, to explore and experience. They aren’t doing this to go against you — they’re simply trying to discover the world in their own way.

 Be flexible where possible

Allow kids to experiment with new things as much as possible while maintaining safety. If they don’t try and practice, how will they know if something is right or wrong?

Let them feel their strength

Allow the child to decide, with boundaries, and empower it. For example: "You decide which soap to shower with today."

Let them choose

Another way to strengthen their power is to allow choices and emphasize they should choose between the two options. For example: "Do you want to go to the park with the scooter or with the bike? You choose!".

Say what’s allowed, not just what’s forbidden

When telling a child what shouldn’t be done, state what’s possible and permitted. For example: "It’s forbidden to climb on the high table, but you can climb up and sit on the stool.”

Utilize their imaginations to get cooperation

When you want kids to do something, use creativity to teach them. For example, when it’s bedtime say: "Your doll is very tired, let's put her to sleep together. Do you want to cover her or read her a story?".

 Share everyday tasks

Have kids help with routine, age-appropriate tasks at home. Praise what they do — make them feel what they do is meaningful and that their tasks help the home run well.  Let them help prepare dinner (put humus in a dish), prepare their knapsacks for kindergarten, water flower pots or choose what to wear.

In conclusion, remember that your goal as a parent is to raise an independent, responsible child with strong values. Even if sometimes the journey to discover the world conflicts with your desires, state your boundaries but empower them with the tools listed here.

This article was written in partnership with the JAMA parenting app.