Why Is My Toddler Not Listening to Me?


As a parent, you always hope that your child will listen when you’re trying to have a conversation, ask them questions or provide directions for a chore. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. It can sometimes feel like everything you’re saying is going in one ear and out the other, which can be frustrating.

“Toddlers” refers to the age range of children 1 to 3 years old. At this age, particularly at the end of the range, they’re likely developing skills like counting, dressing themselves and sorting by color. When it comes to social and communication skills, a toddler is often able to ask “why” and “what” questions and carry out simple conversations. They’re also able to follow minimal instructions. So why isn’t your toddler listening to you?

When we’re talking about a toddler listening to their parents, we’re often referring to answering straightforward questions and following directions. If your toddler isn’t listening to you, there are a few potential reasons. That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

Possible reasons why your toddler isn’t listening to you at home

The truth is that discipline plays a significant role in communication with your child, especially in the toddler stage. But they’re at an age where they’re starting to develop their own sense of independence, potentially leading to stubbornness and a disrespectful attitude.

If you’re feeling frustrated by your toddler not listening to you when you ask them to do (or not do) something, it’s important to get to the root of the issue to find the most effective solution. 

Here are a few potential explanations for your toddler not listening to you:

  • Complex instructions — Toddlers can understand directions that are straightforward and limited. It’s best to keep instructions uncomplicated and no more than three steps. It can be easy to forget that toddlers haven’t developed the same comprehension skills as adults that you may be talking to throughout the day, or even your other children who are older. Complex instructions can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and not wanting to try at all, which may come across as ignoring you completely.
  • Feeling lack of attention — It’s possible that your child is feeling like you aren’t providing them with enough attention or that they're being misunderstood. By no means does this imply that you’re disregarding your child or their feelings. Toddlers can have a higher demand for attention than they’re able to provide due to other responsibilities or emotional capabilities. They may throw a tantrum or try to rebel against your instructions in hopes that it will bring them more attention.
  • Being distracted — We all know what it’s like to become so absorbed in something, whether that be a task for work or scrolling on social media, that we’re not paying attention to anything else around us. This hyperfocus can be true for any age. It’s possible that your toddler is so distracted by something that they’re not able to actively listen to what you’re saying. If they’re watching their favorite show or coloring, they may be distracted while you’re talking.
  • Trouble processing emotions — Emotional processing and regulation are skills that are developed with age. It’s not always easy for a toddler to be able to understand what they’re feeling, let alone effectively communicate those feelings to you in their own words. If you feel like they aren’t listening to you, they may just be taking the time they need to process their responding emotions and understand what they mean.


Tips to try when your toddler isn’t listening

When your toddler isn’t listening to you, it’s natural to feel annoyed, frustrated, and even a little angry. It’s important to take a step back and think about the possible reasons why your child may not be listening. That way, you can take the proper steps to adjust your approach and improve your communication skills based on their needs and behaviors. Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Sit in silence — While it can be tempting to keep talking until they listen, that may cause them to feel overwhelmed and criticized, leading to them retreating even further. When possible, just sit with them as they process their emotions and show that you’re there for them if they’re upset.
  • Get on their level — If your toddler isn’t listening because they feel misunderstood, distracted, or lost in their feelings, crouch down to meet them where they are. It makes them feel safe. Plus, eye contact plays a large role in forming healthy, effective communication. It shows your undivided attention while strengthening the one-on-one connection.
  • Make vocal observations — When your toddler can’t vocalize their feelings, it’s OK if you try to do it for them in a gentle manner. If they’re being silent or distant, you can say things like, “I feel like you’re upset.” By helping them put a name to their emotions, you can gain a better understanding of the situation.


Beyond BookSmart can help improve your child’s listening skills

Listening is the result of different Executive Function skills working together, such as thought organization, emotional regulation, and focus. Your toddler is slowly developing those required skills, which may be why you feel like they aren’t listening to you. It’s also important to remember that having a toddler who isn’t listening now doesn’t guarantee that they will struggle with EF skills as they get older.

Executive Function skills are life management skills that we all need to be effective in planning, initiating, and achieving goals at home, in school, and in the workplace. Executive Function skills require additional attention and support, and Beyond BookSmart’s Executive Function coaching services can help. While we don’t provide services for toddlers, we can help older children who may be struggling to listen, or if your toddler develops challenges with their EF skills in the future. Executive Function skills are trainable, which means that there are ways to help your child listen more effectively.

Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an inquiry call.

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