How Do I Get My Toddler To Pay Attention When I Speak? Because It Feels Impossible

Ad failed to load

Claire, do you hear me? Claire, can you please look at me? Claire, Claire, Claire. And so go my daily conversations with my toddler. Sound familiar? It's no surprise that kids from 3-year-olds to teenagers — hello, threenagers! — have a tendency to look the other way when parents request their attention. But somewhere in the transition from infant to toddler, parents notice not only a big change in their child's developmental skills, but their keenness in completely ignoring them. Like me, you're probably wondering: How do I get my toddler to pay attention when I speak?

"Be patient and aware," Donna M. Volpitta, founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership and author of The Resilience Formula, tells Romper in an email interview. "Be willing to wait to speak until they show us that they are paying attention, and when they get distracted, redirect them until they are ready to pay attention again."

Volpitta says if your child is in the middle of something, then you shouldn't set your expectations too high. "It is unreasonable to expect that they are paying attention to us," she says. When you do try to get their attention, Volpitta recommends making it short, sweet, and direct. "Toddlers cannot handle too many instructions or too much information," she says. "We need to think bullet points and perhaps repeat — and maybe have them repeat — to make sure they get the main points."

Ad failed to load

Like Volpitta, Julie Kandall, the educational director at NYC-based Columbus Pre-School tells Romper that if you are trying to get your child's attention and it's not an emergency, then consider waiting a moment or two and taking interest in whatever they are focusing their attention on. "For example, you can say, 'Oh, I notice that you saw these sparkly stickers, they're pretty cool and really colorful. Do you want to use them later? OK, I'm going to hold them for a minute so that I can tell you something. Please turn on your listening ears.'"

Kandall says parents can also model turning on listening ears by pretending to turn a switch on your ears while making a clicking sound. You might also try changing the volume or intonation of your voice.

Ad failed to load

"[For example,] start speaking really softly, but loud enough for the child to hear you," Kandall says. "They will most likely find this interesting and be curious to find out what you are saying. Once you have their attention, you can again try telling the child what it is you were trying to tell them before."


Also effective? "The good old 'I need your eyes and ears me' is always a good one," Kandall says.

Ad failed to load

"There is a lot happening around us all the time — noises, smells and a ton of visual stimulation," she says. "As adults, most of us are able to block out background noises, motions we see in our periphery and other distractions, but for toddlers, everything around them can spark their curiosity. They have not yet developed the skills of blocking out the world around them in order to stay focused on what you might be saying to them."

According to Parents, your toddler will eventually learn to ignore such distractions, but in the meantime you should try to keep them to a minimum. "Instead of leaving out a bunch of tempting toys in the living room, have your child select just one and then take it to another area," the magazine noted. Make sure you also turn off the television and choose soothing music if you want to have a little background noise.

Because Claire, Claire, Claire just isn't going to cut it.

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills