How can I get my child to listen to me the first time I ask for something? He pretends he didnt hear after the 4th time I ask, but it is obvious he did hear me the first time. He is two years old by the way.

  • 2
    How old is your child?
    – Swati
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 22:39
  • Once told, twice corrected.
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 19:01

8 Answers 8


All training requires repetitions before it's really "learned" but these repetitions refer to separate situations. When you have to repeat yourself several times in a row in a single situation, then more discipline is required.

As a parent, your authority should not be ignored without some form of punishment, and this is something you can train. Toddlers need immediate feedback because they can't connect cause and consequence if the consequence comes much later. So the next time you're ignored, you must act -- you must escalate.

  1. In the first many situations, let a warning be your first escalation. Explain what the direct natural consequence of disobeying would be: If you don't put your shoes on now, we can't go to the park. You could skip this step if you want to discipline more rigorously.

  2. The next step is actually executing that consequence. Don't go to the park.
    Explain or discuss what happened and why. This will help teach the connection between cause and effect (disobeying --> punishment). You can still spontaneously decide to go to the park an hour later, but make sure that the consequence is made clear before "giving in".

  3. If that's not enough, put the child in time-out for a while: One minute per year of age is a basic rule of thumb; adjust as needed.

  4. Remember to praise the child when things go smoothly. Punishment may work, but praise works better if you are very specific about what you're praising. Emphasize the benefits of obeying, again strengthening the cause-effect understanding.

As others are saying as well, this will most often not lead to perfect obedience (which would be scary!). My toddler is no angel either and we often repeat ourselves, but we do try to use the above technique as often as we can, and we try to praise him when he does things right away.

  • I agree with the praise, but it sounds to me like you are doing a lot of negotiating and "cajoling." Here is the thing. You want the kid to comply, without hesitation, because you said so. You don't want the kid to evaluate the command and decide on compliance or not. You want it to be a habit .. Dad speaks, kid complies, without discussion, without argument, without negotiation. The only way to get there is to apply punishment immediately upon non-compliance, every time, without hesitation.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 5:45
  • Yes, if you include step 1 then you have a negotiation. If you start at step 2 then you've got the most direct cause/effect link that ought to work best. Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 7:01
  • 1
    +1 for "applying the consequence". Never make a threat you won't carry through.
    – deworde
    Commented Mar 2, 2012 at 11:45
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    Careful with the praise. As mentioned, make it specific and also make it an intrinsic consequence not "thank you for meeting my needs by being a good little boy". I have seen kids immediately misbehave after that sort of "reward". It can seem manipulative to them. Instead illuminate how their good behavior has natural consequences "great, you've got your shoes on, we can go now, no waiting." Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 15:59

When you speak, the child should comply promptly. Rather than repeating yourself, just wait an appropriate amount of time ... long enough for your command to be processed, a second or so ... then if the child hasn't complied apply punishment. For things that the kid knows from previous discipline are not accepted, don't warn or tell him to stop, go straight to punishment. Your kid is smart, right? He should not need to be told things twice.

Here is the thing, by repeating yourself when you know full well that you were heard, you are training your child that it is OK to ignore you until the nth repetition, or until the threat, or whatever the actual trigger is. But the trigger should be the first mention. Don't repeat, don't count, just issue the command, and apply consequences if the response isn't appropriate.

If you do this now (when he is 2), you will save yourself much grief when he is older because it will become ingrained that Dad speaks, kid responds.

I practiced this with my daughter, starting around 3, and my wife kept on with the repeated commands and threats. My wife thought I was being harsh, until after a few weeks she noticed that my daughter responded to me promptly. So then my wife started, and my daughter adapted.

Note: This is a very similar answer to this, but the question is very similar.

  • One second is not enough time for a two year old to process something and start complying with it.
    – Kevin
    Commented Apr 5, 2012 at 21:12
  • @Kevin I thought I got pedantic. I said "a second or two" as in a "small amount of time", like "hold on a second", not "1 or 2 seconds" as an exact unit of time. However long you think it takes the child to process and not much longer.
    – tomjedrz
    Commented Apr 6, 2012 at 0:42

Yes, it is frustrating indeed. Our children are 7 and 5,5, so we have had to live with this for years now. I found the 1-2-3 Magic technique useful in that at least eventually they are forced to take notice. Of course, the net effect is that they know they can safely ignore the first 2 calls, and only need to react on the 3rd. But this is still better than nothing.

At one point, I declared the rule to be that by the time I utter the 3rd call, they should already be doing what they were told (instead of just starting to hastily obey at 3). This seemed to work, but we weren't consistently applying it with my wife, so it gradually got relaxed. Now I am trying to revive it.

In reality, I don't think they can be expected to always listen to what we are to say the very first time. Sometimes they really don't physically hear it, or are so much immersed in their inner world, dreaming, that the practical effect is the same.

  • 1
    Yes, agreed - children are so often in fantasy land that it does take time for them to shift their focus back to the real world. Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 14:53

In addition with the other excellent answers, it might be helpful to ensure that you have your child's attention first. Before asking or telling my children anything, I make sure to call their name and wait until I have their attention.

Taking too long to respond (or worse, responding negatively) will result in an immediate consequence.

This pretty much eliminates the "I didn't hear you" excuse.

  • 1
    When my 3 year old seems particularly distracted, I get down to his level, as him to look at me instead of the toy he's playing with, and get him to acknowledge what I'm saying. I can't rightly expect him to pay attention to me, if I'm not paying attention to him.
    – user220
    Commented Mar 12, 2012 at 18:38

I've always used the 1-2-3 countdown method, but as stated in the chosen post, this requires training.

Once you've established some kind of training, 1-2-3 is kind of a universal "there will be consequences" prompter. My training method for this was talking thru the steps.

"You need to get your shoes on so we can go to the park. I'm going to count to three. If i get to three and you haven't started getting your shoes on, then we're not going. One. Cmon, get your shoes on. Finn, i'm serious, get them on. Two. Cmon buddy."

etc, etc. It won't take very long to get to the point where you can simplify.

You: "Get your shoes on so we can go to the park"
Him: "..."
You: "One."

Very rarely, less than 4-5 times with all 5 of my kids, I've reached Three. 95% of the time One is enough. Ocassionally I have to go to Two. The benefit to this approach is that it's an established method that works beautifully in those moments when you don't have time to explain anything.

And then he gets his shoes on... or leaves the remote alone, or stops throwin bricks (megablock) at Marceline, or stops eating the cat food. You get the pic.


I have never worked out how to get a child to listen first time. I have however found that repetition is a good way to eventually get them to listen.

It sounds to me like you are doing the right thing and everything is going to plan.


The children want to be winner all the time. So tell the instruction. Then say lets see how fast you can work on this .. (lets see how fast you put on your shoes).. zero, one, two -- Many times the child will not listen this far -- so say 'too bad, you are a good boy / gal but going into the range of bad boys/gals. Come on, I can reset the counter once if you get up immediately.' Then if the child gets up (I expect him / her to do so at this stage), reset the counter, zero -- and the child wins since he has put on the shoes at 'zero' number itself. Declare him to be 'hero'! This works for my child, 7 years old.


I don't know how much this advice will change between a one and two year old, but if the command is something that I can physically make him do, I simply pick him up and make him do it after telling him sternly. If I tell him to come here, and he ignores me, I walk over to him, pick him up and carry him back to me. If I tell him to put up his toothbrush, but he keeps playing with it, I pick him up, carry him to the drawer, and take the toothbrush from his hands.

This will obviously not work in all situations, but it is helpful in some.

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