Toddler listening through headphones to improve listening skills

How To Improve Listening Skills in Toddlers

Whether your child is a toddler or teen, all parents can relate to their child not listening to them at some stage. However, it is crucial to set boundaries and instil good habits in your children from a young age.

So, how can you improve your toddler’s listening skills? We’ve broken down why your toddler may not be listening, and some easy ways to help them perfect their active listening skills.


Why won’t my toddler listen? 

If you’ve ever been stuck wondering “why won’t my toddler listen?”, then don’t fret. It’s completely normal to have a few bumps in the road when it comes to your child’s listening skills.

Naturally, most toddlers have very short attention spans. Who can blame them; they’re simply curious about the busy, distraction-filled world around them.

Along with this, toddlers are also starting to experiment with boundaries. You might hear the term “terrible-twos” a lot, and well, it’s not far from the truth in most cases. At this age, toddlers can become defiant to test the boundaries, as they are also gaining independence.

This is why it is so important to set boundaries from an early age.

Before we look at how to improve listening skills in your toddler, let’s establish what it actually means to listen.


Passive listening vs active listening

Even as adults, we can be guilty of passive listening. This is when we can hear words, but are not absorbing them. In the case of your toddler, it may be that they are trying to listen to you, but simply do not have the active listening skills to do so just yet.

When your toddler has mastered active listening, they will be able to do the following:


  • Absorb information
  • Understand the information
  • Act on or respond to the information


For example, if you asked your child how their day at nursery was, they should be able to understand the question and respond accordingly.


How to improve listening skills in toddlers

Parent improving listening skills in her toddler

  • Give your child one instruction at a time

As mentioned, toddlers have short attention spans, which inevitably compromises their ability to multitask. This will improve over time, however, just for now, it is best to not overwhelm them. It’s all about baby steps!

When asking your toddler to do something, always take it one instruction at a time. As they become quicker at following one instruction, you can start adding another.


  • Ask more open-ended questions

Open-ended questions are the key to getting your toddler accustomed to conversation. These are questions which cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

If you ask your toddler “did you have a good day at nursery”, you will likely get a one word answer that has little thought behind it.

Instead, by asking your little one “how was your day at nursery”, it will help them learn how to comprehend a question and formulate a response. Plus, you’ll create a stronger bond with your toddler by gaining a better insight into their day.


  • Have your toddler follow a baking recipe

Practice makes perfect, and that practice is always much more rewarding when there’s a yummy treat at the end of it!

Baking with your toddler is a great way to give them instructions in an engaging way, whilst also helping them learn about food and develop their fine motor skills.

Patience is key; if your toddler is struggling with a step, demonstrating what they should do will help them understand certain instructions for next time.

Toddlers improving listening skills using a baking recipe


  • Talk about a topic that your toddler is interested in

As an adult, you will naturally find it easier to absorb information about a topic that you’re really interested in. This is no different for your little one.

If they show an interest in something, take the opportunity to have a conversation about it. Ask them what they know about that certain topic and then tell them your own fun facts or explanations. Your toddler will love listening to you talk about something they love themselves.


  • Demonstrate listening indicators

When it comes to social situations, there are some things you do during conversations that you may not be consciously aware of. Do you tend to use hand gestures a lot? Perhaps you nod your head to show you’re paying attention.

Toddlers don’t have much experience with social situations just yet. If they’re not listening, you’ll know it.

Modelling listening skills to your toddler is an excellent way to show them how it’s done. When you engage in conversation with your tot, make an effort to show them that you’re listening:


  • Maintain eye contact and nod your head
  • Once they have finished talking, summarise what they said. For example “Wow you did art and had a tasty lunch at nursery today? That sounds so fun!”


  • Play “Pass The Message” with a group

If your little one has a few friends over, why not use this time to play a fun game that will help them improve those listening skills?

Pass The Message is a simple yet effective game. Get everyone in a circle and think of a message. Then, whisper the message to one person, and have them whisper what they heard to the next person. The last person should then shout out what they heard, which you’ll compare to the original message.

Usually, if you’re playing with a group of children, the end message will be completely different from the first. You can then use this to explain why listening carefully is so important!

Toddlers playing pass the message to improve their listening skills


  • Ask your child what they think will happen next in a story

Story time is one of the best ways to improve listening skills in toddlers. Not only is it an essential part of learning to eventually read, but stories will build those important comprehension skills.

To tackle passive listening during story time, you can make reading interactive for your child. When you get to a suitable part of a story, ask your toddler what they think will happen next. This will force them to use what they have already heard in the story to make a prediction.


  • Create a habit of maintaining eye contact

Earlier, we touched upon maintaining eye contact with your toddler, however it is integral that you teach your little one to do the same when you are speaking. 

If you tend to talk to your toddler whilst they are focused on painting or watching their favourite TV show, chances are their eyes are glued to whatever they’re doing.

Instead, sit down with your toddler, going down to their level, and speak to them. If they don’t look up, then you can ask that they “look at Mummy for a second”, to help them become more engaged in what you are saying.


  • Use positive reinforcement and praise

Positive reinforcement is part of every great parenting strategy for a good reason; it’s highly effective!

When your toddler listens to you and completes an instruction accordingly, it is so important to thank them and give them praise. For example, you might say “thank you for putting your toys away, you listened so well!”

When you start praising your child for good behaviour, they are more than likely to repeat this behaviour next time.

Parent using praise to improve listening skills in toddlers


Summary: How to improve listening skills in toddlers


Improving listening skills in Toddlers at Maryam’s Nursery

Communication is part of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework, which we follow here at Maryam’s Nursery. We understand the importance of helping your child to develop foundational skills which will set them up for success at school.

With over two decades of experience, our Maryam’s Nursery team will structure a bespoke learning and development plan for your child’s needs filled with fun and nurturing activities.

Learn more about our nursery or schedule a virtual consultation or in-person tour to see just how much we can offer your little one. Or, want to attend an Open Day? Sign up for our 2022 Open Day here.