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This is a Simple Trick to Get Your Toddler to Stop and Listen

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Here's a simple solution that works so well to know whether your child is listening to you.

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Sometimes all you want to know is whether your child is actually HEARING your words, listening to your oh-so-simple request to put the shoes on the feet.

It could be that asking your child to do some task (for example, go pee in the potty) leaves you feeling like you can say it TEN times and nothing happens.

No movement is made by your child toward doing the task.

Oh wait, and you still need to leave and the shoes still aren't on the feet.

Or your newly potty trained toddler is STILL not heading to the potty to get their pee out.

The next thing that tends to happen:

  • Parent gets frustrated that child isn't doing the task you've directed your child to do not once, not twice, but MANY times.

  • Power battle follows.

  • Parent feels defeated.

  • The task may STILL not be done.

What breaks this negative feedback loop of saying something (over and over) and feeling like your toddler is not listening to you? I want to share a simple trick that's been working so well in our family.

One thing seems to have a magical power to get my kids to stop and listen.

A Magic Trick for How to Make Your Kids Listen

I didn't come up with this parenting hack for how to make kids listen, to be clear. But as a trained journalist, I'm someone who naturally tends to step back and observe what's happening around me.

Related: Oh Crap I Have a Toddler is my go-to guide for understanding toddlers and preschoolers (and even tips for parenting school-age kids) and how their little brains work. The book gives you a deep-dive understanding of what works and what doesn't work for how to make your kids listen.

One day I noticed something that had a simple, powerful effect on me as a parent.

I was volunteering in my daughter's class around one of the holidays. The kids were all hyped up on the special holiday treats for snack time and getting ready to do a crafty activity the teachers put together for the class.

It was a full class of kids, most on the rowdy side, because again, it was one of those special days. I'm not a teacher, so I simply stood back and watched, wondering how they were going to calm down these kids and get them working at tables on the activity.

How do you move from bonky energy to focused energy doing a task?

It seemed impossible to me how this was going to go down without a disaster.

And then I heard the teacher do this simple trick.

Tap your head if you're listening.

She repeated it only twice.

And just like that, more than a dozen kids started tapping their heads.

The classroom instantly lowered in volume and the bonky energy faded out.

This simple trick for getting your child to listen worked so well in a classroom of young kids.

The next thing I saw, the teacher could talk through the activity, and the children were listening and followed along.

Later, when the teacher had to share the next set of directions for the activity, she used the same idea, but changed the direction to say..

Rub your belly if you're listening.

I thought to myself that day:

Could this work outside of a classroom?
Could this work for me as a mom? (fingers crossed)

What I found as a mom is this simple trick works with getting my kids to listen.

It's like Simon Says in a way, so you can riff on any of those simple do-something-on-your-body directions. I've also done the following:

Tap your shoulders if you're listening.

Tap your nose if you're listening.

Touch your toes if you're listening.

Related: For more scripts on how to talk to little kids, I love the book How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. It's a gem for how to break out of the power battles, avoid sibling rivalry with your words, and help your child feel heard.

Why does this parenting hack work so well with children?

One reason I think this trick for listening works so well is you're approaching your child in a more playful way.

Kids happily follow directions in games like Simon Says, Mr. Fox, and Red Light Green Light. So this type of ask and tone of voice feels similar to a game.

Make it more fun, and your toddler is more likely to step up and listen.

Another reason this trick helps get kids to listen is you can actually TEST whether your child is stopping to listen to you.

When you say, tap your head if you're listening, and your child doesn't stop to do anything...then you know. There's a disconnect.

Then you know to stop and get your child's attention BEFORE you continue on with your ask to do some task...

to put on their shoes.

to pee in the potty.

Because now you have a test that SHOWS YOU whether your child is listening to you or not.

Just because you're in the same room as your child, just because you're looking at your child and using a calm tone of voice, doesn't always mean your child is HEARING you.

Get your child to actively show you they're listening.
  • Your toddler could be engrossed in play, bouncing their ball.

  • Your toddler could be thinking about what their little stuffie mouse is doing.

  • Your toddler could be unaware that you want them to listen to you.

Why else does this simple listening trick feel so magical?

It breaks the negative loop, the trap we can all fall into as parents.

When you get into a pattern of feeling like every morning when you remind your child to put on their shoes to leave that

NOTHING HAPPENS..then the dynamic can start to shift.

Frustrations escalate. You feel exasperated that you can't get your child to do one simple thing without such a heavy lift of energy on your part.

So the next morning, you may start off with a shorter tone. A firmer tone right out of the gate, because you already went through the merry-go-around of ten asks to get your child to put their shoes on the last time.

And now your child hears that pointed tone of voice, and because their job as toddlers is to test boundaries, now you may find yourself with a child who's resisting putting on their shoes simply because


And once you find yourself in that loop, that's a power battle that we lose as parents.

The more the energy escalates, the harder your mornings can feel, too.

Related: What else can bring on resistance to go to the potty? Here are 3 rules to stop toddler resistance to the potty.

So go ahead and adopt this magic trick to get your child to stop and listen. And to give YOU a signal on whether your child is actually hearing you.

I didn't come up with it, but this simple trick has definitely brought more peace and less nagging to our home. Sometimes the shoes even go on after one reminder.

And that feels like pure magic when it happens!

Want more support in how to get your child to listen to you?

  • Check out Jamie Glowacki's podcast episode They Just Won't Listen. (Jamie is the author of Oh Crap I Have a Toddler.) Once you understand WHY it feels like your toddler isn't listening to you, it's so much easier to shift your language and tone.

  • Here's a guide with other resources for getting your toddler into routines so everyday life moves a little smoother. (I also love the book Hurry Up as a reminder for everyone to slow down when you're prepping small children for school.)


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