My 2 1/2 year old does not listen. Other mums have been surprised at her obvious and intentional ignorance – and it’s with many, many different things! Even if I just say her name, sometimes she’ll look me in the eye, smirk and run away. 

I’ve tried ‘positive parenting’ and explaining things gently, coming down to her level etc… But it doesn’t get through. I’ve tried taking away luxuries, but she thinks it’s a game. She laughs if I do raise my voice and get cross.

She has run away, towards the road, the last couple of times I’ve collected her from nursery and on Monday I broke down crying in front of the nursery workers and other parents because she just wouldn’t listen and was pulling away from me – was totally embarrassing!!

I try so hard to be a good mum and this behaviour just makes me feel totally out of control and weak, which isn’t good for my own mental health! 

I’m sure this behaviour is fairly normal for her age, but just after some advice as to how other parents have successfully handled it.

Thanks in advance x 

I’m not going to pretend the twos are an easy time. 

As a great mum you keep slogging away, and yet everything you try either doesn’t last or just cascades into tears. No wonder you’ve had enough. 

I became a parenting coach as I, too, was worn out looking for answers. I knew there had to be a better way that didn’t involve power struggles and my child not listening to a word I said, not to mention the embarrassment of dealing with tantrums out in public. 

The magic of Language of Listening® – the simple yet powerful coaching model I use and teach – is that it doesn’t just change HOW you talk to your child, it changes how you SEE your child and your role as a parent.

Dealing with a strong-willed toddler is enough to leave you feeling powerless and weak. 

Feeling powerless automatically pushes us (and our kids) into action to meet our natural need for power in any way we can. It’s an unconscious urge that typically pushes us to shout, lash out, control others, or give up. Unfortunately, those are all things that we don’t really want to do, but in the moment, they feel good as they meet our need for power. When I talk about power here, I mean power as a healthy need. You can read more about it in the needs section below.

One way to gain some control is to realise that your daughter’s behaviour is NO REFLECTION on you. 

So often we think that if we can’t ‘control’ our children that somehow we’ve lost our power. But that’s an illusion that keeps us stuck and has us start to see our child as the “problem” rather than seeing the whole picture. 

As your daughter’s challenging behaviour escalates, you understandably begin to concentrate your attention on changing her behaviour. However, your child’s out-of-control actions are signs of something much bigger going on. It’s usually down to the child’s stage of development, or emotional or relationship needs not being met. 

This does NOT point the finger of blame to anyone; it means that to get the change you so want for your family you need to shift the focus off your child and onto your relationship and understanding how your daughter’s behaviour makes perfect sense.

It’s this change in thinking that will help you stop feeling powerless and get the behaviour you so want. 

Did you know that from birth to 3 y/o your child’s brain undergoes an amazing transformation? During this stage of development it produces more than a million neural connections each second. Wow! 

Your daughter’s daily interactions and experiences physically change the shape of her brain and lay the foundation for self-control, communication, problem-solving skills, among others, and in turn lead to how she sees herself and her place in the world. 

You see, our children aren’t mini adults; their brain is completely different than ours. They don’t have logic or reasoning yet (hello! They truly believe in Father Christmas flying round the world delivering presents in one night).

They lack the impulse to stop themselves. We think they’re being defiant and not listening, but they’ve just seen something really cool on the opposite side of the road and have no awareness of danger. It’s not even on their radar. 

And forget communication skills. We talk and talk and try to explain our way of seeing the world, yet they don’t have the brain development to understand our logic.

A large proportion of our frustrations comes down to our unrealistic expectations of our child’s brain development and skill level. 

By the way, this isn’t ‘a get out of jail card’ for our kids while we resign ourselves to ‘bad’ behaviour. It simply means we need to spend our time and energy on teaching our children the skills they need to control their own behaviour. 

Behind ALL behaviour is a healthy need for connection, experience and/or power. 

In Language of Listening® we look beneath the behaviour and see the three basic needs for growth.

  • EXPERIENCE:  Mastery of the physical body through experiential and sensory exploration
  • CONNECTION: Feeling noticed, understood, validated, loved and having a sense of importance and belonging
  • POWER:  Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.

Your daughter acting out indicates that she’s feeling a great deal of powerlessness and disconnection. 

By not listening, smirking at you, or running off she’s meeting her need for power except not in a way you or she likes. What she really wants is to feel like she has some power in her life. (Remember power in a ‘good’ way -Feeling confident, in control of self, able to make an impact on the world.)

Frequently the power kids crave is to be able to get what they want, or if they can’t get what they want now, they need to know that what they want matters to you. 

Language of Listening® supports you to do just that.

It allows your child to know that what she wants matters to you. It helps her find ways to get what she wants (or meet the need behind that “want”) inside your boundary and helps her recognize her strengths.

Here’s an easy solution to get you going in changing the behaviour you don’t like.

Instead of explaining things gently or taking away her treasured toys, meet your daughter exactly where she is in that moment. 

Honestly, skip the judgments, questions, fixing and teaching. Toddlers don’t understand WHY they feel the way they do. Or WHY they do the things they do. They live in the moment and want what they want. 

That’s why when you take things away or raise your voice and get cross, she thinks it’s a game or laughs at you—she WANTS to play and connect with you so everything really does look like a game to her. Her actions are ruled by emotional instincts, not adult logic. 

Instead…acknowledge.

No matter how irrational or impulsive your daughter appears, acknowledge what she is thinking, doing, saying or feeling. 

Take a deep breath and meet your daughter right there in the moment. 

Acknowledge what she wants BEFORE calmly stating your boundary in terms of what she can do. 

“You really want to run to the park. You love running. You can run to that lamp post and then wait to hold my hand before we cross the road.” (Choose a lamp post or other object well away from the road until your daughter learns she can stop herself and wait.)

“You want to play; you don’t want to leave the park. You can have three more swings or two slides.” 

“You love having fun. You’re not finished playing, and it’s bath time. You can bring your toy to the bath and have fun in the bath.”

In those moments, your daughter feels like what she wants matters AND you get to hold your boundary. 

Each time she succeeds, be sure to point out what she did and name the strength that shows as in:

“You ran to the lamp post, stopped yourself, and waited. That shows self-control!”

“You chose two slides and added a race to the car. You told me with words exactly what you want, and those choices work for me!”

“You brought your toy to the bath and had fun. You’re a problem-solver!”

Pointing out strengths with proof is the quickest way to help your daughter learn the skills she needs to help her control her own behaviour, and it builds your relationship at the same time. Kids love to feel capable, so don’t be surprised if she starts practicing her strength as soon as you name it by running to another lamppost to stop herself again, or using her words to tell you something else she wants, or solving another problem, etc. Once kids identify with a strength, they use their new skill with pride.

Now, I’m not saying this is a magic wand that will miraculously have your daughter always listening to every word you say and never having a meltdown again. Although that would be nice, that’s just not reality and not our parenting goal. 

By remembering to focus on your relationship, and acknowledging her wants while teaching her the skills to manage her own behaviour you will see a massive difference in her behaviour now and into the future. 

To read more about this check out my blog posts. 

https://keepingyourcoolparenting.com/strong-willed-child-this-is-what-happens-when-you-swap-the-chaos-for-calm

https://keepingyourcoolparenting.com/a-surprising-way-to-get-your-toddler-to-listen

https://keepingyourcoolparenting.com/the-real-cause-of-your-childs-misbehaviour