Inside: Is your 2 year old not listening? The good news is: this is totally normal! With this simple parenting trick in your back-pocket you can gain more cooperation and better listening from your toddler.
Three things that should NEVER be in the same sentence together:
- Squirmy, manic toddler
- Starbucks bathroom
- Very special unicorn lovey
There’s a story here. Can you tell?
I know what you’re thinking – the unicorn lovey ended up in the Starbucks toilet (thanks to the squirmy, manic toddler), but luckily, the unicorn’s life was spared.
Let’s back up a minute.
I set my Grande Flat White on the bar counter while I took my 2 year old to the bathroom for a potty break.
I could tell my toddler was feeling a little silly, and since she woke up way too early that morning, I knew I was in for it.
When I sat her on the potty to pee, her body went limp and boneless like a piece of cooked spaghetti, her unicorn lovey dangling dangerously close to the toilet bowl.
Laughing maniacally, she wiggled and squirmed while giggling “no, no, no, no, no.” It was one of those “is she laughing or crying?” moments. A moment I knew was teetering on the edge of a full-blown tantrum.
We couldn’t leave Starbucks without a potty break, and every second we spent in that bathroom my coffee was growing colder and colder (#priorities).
Forcing her to sit on the potty was not an option. I could feel my frustration rising and the last thing I wanted to do was use my “mom voice” for a silly moment like this…
At a Crossroad…
Have you ever been in a situation like this with your 2 year old not listening?
Perhaps it wasn’t as silly as this. Maybe there was more anger or aggression involved. In any case, this budding power struggle can easily be diffused by using a simple parenting trick that works wonders with 2 year olds.
But first, you should know…
Toddlers are unable to learn ANYTHING when they are *stuck* in that manic state. A tantrum or silly spell is not the time for a teachable moment.
When your toddler is in the throes of a tantrum, the most important thing you can do is to keep your cool and stay calm. If your toddler is trapped in a “silly spell” or “wild state” whatever you want to call it, before you can get them to listen, they have to calm down first.
This might look like temporarily removing them from the situation or removing the stimulus that’s causing them to throw a fit (a toy, sippy cup, etc.)
Let’s chat about what to do when your 2 year old is not listening.
You may have heard these strategies referred to as “redirection” or “distraction” – and at the core, that’s essentially what they are.
That being said, these tricks do more than simply redirect a toddler on the verge of a tantrum – by utilizing these strategies you’ll learn how to first stay calm, connect with your toddler, and teach them how to calm themselves down in the process.
Sounds good, right?
Let’s dive in…
Why won’t my 2 year old listen?
To be completely honest, there are MANY reasons why toddlers struggle with listening and complying with instructions.
- Turning two sends a signal to the brain that says: “HEY, I’m my own person! I can do what I want. I am a separate individual from my mommy.”
- On top of that, their little bodies are growing, learning new skills, becoming more verbal and mobile…and possibly potty training? Whew. That’s a whole lot of *big* stuff going on inside a *little* person.
- It could also be that you’re simply not speaking your two year old’s language. Kids this age need short, concise and clear directions.
When speaking to your toddler:
- Use a happy, cheerful voice and save your stern “mom voice” for when you really need it (i.e. toddler is about to run into the street)
- Provide instructions that are clear and simple: “First we go potty, then we get shoes on.”
- Know that crying is okay! Even if you communicate perfectly that it’s time to leave the playground, they still might cry – and that’s okay. Remember, it’s not easy being two.
- Lead with helpful phrases, and songs, when appropriate (more on that below)
What to do When Your 2 Year Old Doesn’t Listen
1. You Need to Calm Down…
When your toddler won’t listen, the first thing you need to do is stay calm. Naturally, this is easier said than done; but children are intuitive, and they can tell whether you mean it or you’ve given up.
It’s also worth noting, when using these tricks, your tone matters. If you seem annoyed or defeated or worse, stressed, your toddler WILL know, and most likely won’t follow along.
No judgement, we’ve all been there.
Back to the Starbucks bathroom…
Are you wondering how I got my two year old to stop acting like a crazy person and start going potty?
We shook our sillies out.
I took her off the potty. Put the unicorn lovey away in my bag, and promptly began singing my best rendition of “shake your sillies out” – and just like that, she forgot all about her would-be-tantrum, went potty, and we were out of there.
Yes, I do believe parents everywhere despise this song. But kids love it for a reason.
It gets their attention, and what’s more, they understand the instructions the song gives – and – it helps them calm down.
When your toddler is trapped in a silly spell, acting wild, or on the verge of a meltdown, you need an appropriate way for them to get back to equilibrium. By using this method, you don’t need anything other than your voice and a willingness to make this work.
So the next time you need your toddler to get their shoes on, go potty, sit down for dinner, or really, do anything, have them stop and shake their sillies out – then provide them with simple instructions (more on that in part 2)
If “Shake Your Sillies Out” isn’t quite your thing, there are other movement and “calm down” songs that can work just as well:
- Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes
- “I Can” by Charlie Hope
- “Give a squeeze, nice and slow, take a deep breath, and let it go” – this one is from Daniel Tiger
Mom-to-Mom Tip: Toddlers love to say “no” – am I right? I *never* ask my toddler if she wants to do the song with me, I just start singing it. If I can tell she’s not really feeling it, I change up the song. So in case you’ve forgotten the words, just make up your own words…which leads us to #2….
2. Sing it!
As I shared in how to improve your toddler’s expressive language, singing (especially rhyming songs) is a GREAT way to teach toddlers to listen and follow instructions – plus it helps build language skills.
There is an abundance of research that proves singing nursery rhymes, or any sort of rhyming song, helps improve language development as well as early literacy (the building blocks of early reading).
Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy to remember the words to your favorite song from 5th grade but how hard it is to remember, well, just about anything else? #mombrain
Rhyming is a mnemonic device, which means that if a phrase or song contains any sort of rhyme scheme, a toddler will be more likely to remember the concept being taught.
So how can you integrate this concept into daily life in order to teach your toddler to listen? It’s as easy and taking your toddler’s favorite song and replacing some of the words with simple instructions.
Here’s how I do it – in real life.
Do you know the song The Farmer in the Dell? “Hi-Ho the derry-o….” I use this song as a starting point and replace “the farmer in the dell” with any phrase I need.
For example: If we are running late to drop my 4 year old off at Pre-K and my 2 year old is in no hurry to get moving, I will sing —>
“Let’s put on our shoes, let’s put on our shoes, hi-ho the derry-o, let’s put on our shoes. Now we get in the car, now we get in the car, hi-ho the derry-o, now we get in the car.”
If you continue to use the same song in the same situations (like the one above) your toddler will learn: when I hear this song, I put my shoes on and get ready to go. It’s essential that you put their shoes on while you’re singing the song. Mom singing is the “sleight-of-hand” so to say, so use this to your advantage!
The easy part is you can pretty much do this with any children’s nursery rhyme, this one just happens to be the easiest for me. So the next time you are trying to get the kids out of the house quickly, or you need your toddler to clean up their toys, sing it out!
When your 2 year old won’t listen:
1) Stop, stay calm, and shake your sillies out
2) Sing It – choose their favorite song, and replace some of the words with your instructions