This is Why Your 3-Year-Old Doesn’t Listen to You

This is why your 3-year-old wont listen to you

3-year-olds don’t listen to their parents, they do the exact opposite, with a brazen look on their little faces. They know exactly what they are doing and it’s enough to drive you mad! By ignoring you, it makes you immensely frustrated. But it doesn’t have to be this way. No, there are simple methods that can make them want to listen to you again. Let me show you.

Why does your 3-year-old not want to listen to you? Sometimes your 3-year-old may be too caught up in their own world to notice you speaking to them. At other times their ignorance might be a way of asserting their independence. Let’s look at what you can do to teach your 3-year-old excellent listening skills and stop them from ignoring you.

Did you think your child would be more reasonable after the terrible-twos? I have bad news for you. But don’t panic, there’s also great news too. There are ways to snatch their attention back. I’m going to show you every tip, method, cheat, and trick in the book to get your 3-year-old listening to you again.

First, Get Some Perspective

Yelling at your 3-year-old to get them to listen won’t do much good. It could even harm your relationship. So, avoid it.

Your child is 3-years-old and it’s natural for them not to listen to you. When they ignore you it has more to do with their age than their temperament or your parenting skills. So give yourself a break.

Take a step back and recognize that your child isn’t purposely trying to undermine you — he’s just acting his age

– Joseph Shrand, M.D., Instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

You are a good parent. Don’t lose confidence in your parenting skills because your 3-year-old has stopped listening to you. It’s a very common complaint parents have at this age. I know from experience, it can be extremely frustrating.

But, with a little know-how and some creative parenting, you can teach your little one to learn to listen again and if they are refusing, I’ll let you in on a few secret tricks!

Keep Calm and Remember Your the Parent

When our 3-year-olds do something that is extremely frustrating it can be difficult not to respond in a negative way.

Yelling and anger can pop out of nowhere, but these negative emotions will send the situation out of control. If you want to keep control then you need to keep calm and remember you are the parent. No matter how defiant your 3-year-old is, keep your cool.

But how does that work in practice? Try this. When something really upsets me and I feel that I’m getting angry. I count slowly to ten and concentrate on each number. Usually, by the time I’ve reached ten my anger has subsided. It stops me from saying things and acting in a way that I might regret later. Try it yourself, it really works!

The Most Effective Method to Get Your 3-Year-Old to Listen

Count to 3.

Yes, you heard correctly. Just count slowly to 3.

But how the hell does that make my child listen to me? Try it, it’s magic!

If your 3-year-old is doing something that you would rather they wouldn’t and they just aren’t listening to you. Then calmly tell them that you are going to count to three, and if they haven’t started to listen and do what they need to do by the time you reach three, then they will go to timeout.

So, let’s look at an example. Your 3-year-old refuses to put on their raincoat when it’s pouring down outside?

That’s 1 … 2 … 3 and now you have to have a timeout.

Timeouts are 1-minute per year of age. Monitor them in a safe place, away from distractions like toys and start the timer when they are settled. Don’t reset the time if they leave the timeout, just return them. Don’t talk to your child during the timeout. The goal is to remove your attention when they have negative behavior and reward positive behavior.

Remember to be consistent. When you reach number three, they need to go for a timeout. Don’t beg, discuss or argue with your child during the counting either. Don’t use timeouts for every little thing otherwise, they will lose their effectiveness.

If you lack consistency, timeouts won’t be effective. Stick to your word so your child can learn that when you start that count, you are being serious. If you don’t follow through on what you have said your child will feel unsure about your thoughts and feelings. It’s not fair on them.

When the timeout has finished, if they are calm, say a few brief words on why they needed a timeout and then let them go back to playing happily.

If you consistently follow through on giving deserved timeouts, it won’t be long until you barely count to number one before your 3-year-old is listening attentively.

How to handle a 3-year-old who constantly cries?

Remind Yourself “They Are Only 3-Years-Old

Respecting their age isn’t very comforting when they are refusing to put on their shoes for the third time this week, but the truth is, you can’t count to 3 all day. It will drive you crazy.

Sometimes, you might just have to accept that yor 3-year-old will refuse to listen to you. The only thing that will fix this problem is when they turn 4 years old.

3-year-old’s have poor impulse control, no amount of training or work will fully fix that problem. Your child’s brain is developing and it just hasn’t gotten round to improving certain areas.

Try a Single Word

Most of the time, your 3-year-old knows what they should be doing. They might just need a little reminder.

But, I give them reminders and they still won’t listen to me? Remember that they are only 3-years-old and sometimes lack the understanding and attention span for a lecture on why they should listen.

Also, If you try and remind them by telling them off and explaining why they should do something, their drive for independence kicks in and you will find they become even more stubborn.

If you repeat the same command to them over and over again, they will just tune out.

A better tactic is to use one word to help jog your 3-year-old’s memory without nagging them.

So, if you are off out and your 3-year-old is refusing to put their shoes on, just say the word “Shoes”. You can repeat it if you need to, but give your 3-year-old chance to understand the first few times you try.

Such a simple reminder will jog their memory without flicking that “I want to declare my independence” switch on!

So, throw out your long-winded orders and replace them with short, sharp memory jogging words and watch as the change in your 3-year-old’s behavior will surprise you in a good way.

Spending time with your 3-year-old
Giving your 3-year-old your attention encourages them to give you their attention

Empower Your 3-Year-Old

Give them the information to make the right decision.

I find myself telling my over-active 3-year-olds not to do things for most of the day. I sometimes feel like a stuck record.

We were out as a family a few months ago, and one of my 3-year-olds just wouldn’t sit still. They were running around the restaurant, playing with the decor, and jumping on the seats.

Now, in this situation, I used to tell them things like “Stop running around”, “Don’t do that”, and “Get down”. But it never seemed to change their behavior. They carried on being disruptive every time we went out and it was embarrassing. That was until I made one simple change in how I spoke to them.

3-year-old’s don’t like being told what to do. Heck, even I don’t like being given orders. At 3-years-old your child is asserting their own independence and the last thing they want to be told is what to do. It’s a common problem that all parents experience at this age.

Now, rather than telling them not to do things, I give them the facts and have faith in letting them decide. This way, you can empower your 3-year-old to make the right choice. Giving them independence but keeping them safe.

For example, if your 3-year-old is playing with a fragile ornament. Rather than saying “Put that down”. You can say instead “That ornament is made from glass and it breaks easily”.

Or, if your 3-year-old is refusing to keep still in a busy restaurant, rather than telling them to “Keep still”. You could inform them that “If you run around in a busy restaurant you might bump into an adult and they could spill hot food on you”.

If you inform your 3-year-old of the consequences of their actions, they are much more likely to make sensible decisions than if you just tell them to follow your rules.

Give Your 3-Year-Old Two Choices

Giving your 3-year-old a command doesn’t give them the opportunity to be part of the decision. Children need to feel involved in decision making or they are less likely to listen to you, even becoming more stubborn and contrary.

But I can’t stand around all day discussing decisions with my 3-year-old! your right.

That’s why it’s much better to leave the final decision up to them but narrow down their choices to two sensible options. That way, they still feel involved in the decision but you get one of two acceptable outcomes.

For example, if your child isn’t keen on vegetables for dinner, they might say, “I don’t want broccoli!”. Rather than saying “You’re eating it!”. Try giving your 3-year-old two choices and ask them to decide. Say, “Ok, You can have either broccoli or corn”. Then they get to make the decision and you get them to eat one of their 5 a day.

Let Your 3-Year-Old in On The Plan

Frequently, when your 3-year-old is refusing to listen, it is because you are demanding they do something.

Children have poorer memory than adults, so your demand may seem sudden to them.

Put your shoes on, we are going to the park!” …”No!”. Springing a request on a 3-year-old rarely goes well.
Let them know of your plans in advance. Repeatedly tell them exactly what’s going to happen so they can prepare for tasks asked of them.

For example, “In 10 minutes we are going to start getting our coats and shoes on to go to the park” … Then “After we have put your coat on, we can put your shoes on to to the park” and finally just a simple memory jog “Shoes”.

Using a gentle series of reminders like this works much better than asking your child to do something when you need it done. It feels like a surprise to them and they are more likely to say “NO!”.

Use Your Physical Presence

If your 3-year-old is in a world of their own and you have tried to get through to them by talking but they aren’t responding. You might have to use your physical presence. But what does that mean?

It’s simple, you might need to put yourself in between them and the distraction. If they are playing with toys and ignoring you, then get down to their level in between the toy and your child and repeat your question.

Sometimes a simple tap on the shoulder will do, that physical touch is enough to help them concentrate more on what you are saying and move their attention from whatever they were doing.

Use Consequences to Make Your 3-Year-Old Accountable

You can nag your 3-year-old until you are out of breath but nothing will grab their attention faster than the consequences of their actions. If they refuse to listen to you then they won’t get any rewards.

A few years ago, as a family, we went on holiday to a hot and sunny country. The kids wanted to play in the pool. So I pulled out the sunscreen and started to apply it liberally over one of my 3-year-olds. When I had finished, she trotted off happily to the pool, but my other 3-year-old stubbornly refused to put on any sunscreen.

I told her that if she refused to put on sunscreen then she wouldn’t be able to play in the pool because she could get sunburn and that was dangerous. Of course, she started to get upset.

After around 15 minutes of her glumly watching her sister in the pool having fun, she came up to me and asked if she could put sunscreen on now.

In the past, if she had refused to put sunscreen on I would have probably started to argue with her. I now know that’s the wrong thing to do. Letting my 3-year-old feel the consequences of her actions made her change her mind without any yelling.

It’s difficult to hold your nerve and stick to your word but if you do it consistently, your battles will start to become easier and eventually fade away. Tt’s worked for me!

Your 3-year-old starts to realize that you mean what you say.

Pick Your Battles

No matter how many tricks or tips you can use, your child is still 3-years-old, so you won’t win every war of wills with them. Consistency gives you enough ammunition to win the important ones, but you also have to pick your battles.

You need to concentrate on being firm for the things that really matter.

Kids can often feel overwhelmed by the number of rules and demands that are made of them every day. You need to develop a little blindness to the minor things they do wrong.

Constantly battling with your 3-year-old over these minor quibbles can mean they are less likely to listen when it really matters.

If it’s something important, like wearing a sunhat in the sun. Then stick to your word. But if you try to get them to clear away their toys before dinner and they miss one or two, you are better turning that blind eye, than nagging them into picking up the last two.

This will prevent the relationship you have with your 3-year-old turning into a constant war. Constant timeouts and lectures will undermine the special bond you have with your child.

Save your strength for the points that matter.

“Because kids this age often feel overwhelmed, they’re more likely to listen and cooperate if they feel that parents are only asking them to do the really important things”

– Dr. Fick ,Psy.D. Smart Love Family Services.

Listen to Your 3-Year-Old

Sometimes 3-year-olds don’t listen because they feel like nobody is listening to them.

Respect and communication happen both ways. You might not think what your 3-year-old has to say is as important, but it is to them.

The importance is relative to the person. So give them some of your time and really listen. Don’t dismiss their fears and worries as childish. To a 3-year-old they are very real.

Most parents are busy and don’t feel like they have time to focus on insignificant things. If you give your 3-year-old 30 minutes of undivided attention to do whatever they want, you might be surprised at the results. They will feel listened to and also start to listen more to what you have to say.

Related Questions

Does my 3-year-old have ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)? That’s a query better answered by a health professional like your doctor or a therapist. There are many factors that could cause ODD including biological, social or even mood disorders. It’s difficult to diagnose at 3-years-old because of their natural drive for independence. If you are worried then consult your doctor.

How can you discipline a 3-year-old for not listening? Well, we discussed timeouts and consequences in this article if you need a thorough explanation and some amazingly effective ideas on positive discipline for your 3-year-old then read my article, How to discipline a 3-year-old. It is packed full of useful techniques from my own experience.