How To Deal With A Child That Doesn't Listen

Your child is growing fast, you are reminded of this fact once again as their speech develops and your toddler is now starting to develop a personality. You start arguing, there are tantrums and you are asking: how can I deal with a kid that doesn't listen to me?
There are no hard and fast rules in parenting because you know your child better than anyone else. A lot of parenting is trial and error, flexibility an patience, a lot of patience. And sometimes this is enough to teach you how to discipline a child, a 2 year old for example, without hitting or losing your mind!

I recently read the book: No-drama discipline by Dr. Daniel Siegel. It is not only about experience but there are theories in psychology we can use to use discipline in a healthy positive way, so some of the tips in this post will be from my experience and some will be inspired by this great book (there is also a work book that you can get separately).

photo of crying toddler
Photo by Shilbey Miller on

1- You cannot control your child:

Dr. Siegel makes a simple and obvious point that we tend to forget in the heat of the moment. Our children are not our property, our aim should not be to control them. Not just because we should not but we also can't. In my opinion, you will need to balance this with your parenting style because at the end of the day, your child must understand that you have authority. There will be times when democracy won't work or impractical. The way to do this is to be respectful of your child.

When your child is able to have a conversation or before things get heated, explain your reasoning for what are asking them to do (or what you are denying them).

2- Give a hug:

Dr. Siegel argues that difficult situations or even tantrums can be used as opportunities to teach your toddler valuable lessons. But how can someone in a very highly emotional state learn anything? That's when connecting becomes important. It will calm them down and they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say about the situation. Try to understand why your child is acting this way
and put yourself in their shoes for a minute, you would feel frustrated/angry too! Listen to them and validate their feelings.

The book is full of realistic examples from everyday life on how to deal with those difficult behaviours and what you could say to  your child to soothe them and help them be open for some communication and learning. This "connection" will also strengthen your relationship.

mom talking to child, they understand each other
Photo by Wang Xi on

3- Understand:

Instead of rushing to criticise your child and make them feel bad about themselves, ask "what just happened", as if you are trying to understand how things came to this end result rather than just blaming them. Talk to your little one and try to analyse what happened and what could be done differently next time. Ask them why they want to  do something in a certain way, this helps them think critically and give them the ability to analyse situations. By talking to them, you also give them a chance to have  choice about where things go from here.

Contrary to the general advice of instant punishment or to "address the behaviour immediately", Dr. Siegel suggests you wait until your child is ready. Not too long, but not too soon. I have seen this fire back when done too soon when a child is crying and screaming their lungs out.

4- Reward good behaviour:

You will find this advice in every book or article you read about disciplining children no matter what age they are.

5- Do not ignore the child who is having a temper tantrum (except....):

As mentioned before, it should addressed in a gentle but firm way. Sometimes it helps to just hug your child and firmly hold them. This keeps them safe from injury but also sends a clear message : "I'm here for you even at your worst, I can take it". This conveys a sense of trust and safety, but also says you are in charge.
The exception here according to Dr. Siegel is when the tantrum is clearly manipulative and done on purpose to get something they want. Please remember that this is just a minority of tantrums (and usually in older kids). Most toddlers do NOT enjoy having a tantrum and are emotionally suffering.

6- Pick your battle and stand your ground:

Ok, I didn't really want to use the word "battle" but could not think of a better one. I think it is important not to over do this  and avoid being in a constant state of nit-picking and giving commands to your children. If you can let it go, let it go. As I mentioned in an earlier post, another writer (Dr. Christopher Green) advises against "over-disciplining" your children. Try to find a middle ground.

However, if you have decided that you are not changing your mind and that your child cannot do what they want (for example because it is dangerous, or impossible, or they just can't), then stand your ground and stay consistent.

What about you?

Please share with us in the comments section how you deal with a situation when a child doesn't listen to you. Let me know if you have any suggestions, tips or questions!

Related post: 18 month old temper tantrums

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