How to handle your toddler’s selective hearing
How you can get your toddler to listen without yelling! Yes, really!
By Peter Malik
April 05 2023
Yes? In most cases, your toddler doesn't have a hearing impairment, they're just not really listening to you.
In reality, most toddlers have learned they actually don’t need to try to listen, as their loving parent will repeat information enough times until they feel like listening. Toddlers learn that they don’t need to listen and respond until mum or dad actually starts yelling in desperation.
Skills for all ears
The good news is that poor listening skills can be remedied. It often just means parents need to modify the environment and adopt more consistent management strategies.
Begin by turning off some of your entertainment devices so there’s less background noise, and ensure your toddler isn’t distracted by some form of screen.
The next step is to avoid talking from a distance or repeating unheard messages. Instead, go to your toddler, get down to her level and make good eye contact. If she is distracted, block her attention to the distracting element, such as the iPad or TV. Also, try to be animated and clear so she has little option but to listen.
Younger toddlers need cueing in, either by verbal or tactile means. A verbal command, such as using your toddler’s name and giving a verbal ‘listening’ prompt, or touching your toddler, conditions her towards good listening.
A common mistake is to just expect good listening. However, as with most parenting, toddlers always respond better and learn skills more effectively when they’re given genuine praise, recognition and affection.
This can simply be an engaging smile, warm feedback and positive praise for being a good listener.
Another common mistake is to keep repeating yourself until your toddler decides to listen and respond. It’s more effective to adopt a consistent process, such as only repeating verbal messages a maximum of three times before taking action.
Very few toddlers will naturally adopt a ‘listen and do the first time I’m told’ approach.
They often need one or two reminders. A good basic process is to ask, request and remind, then take action. This requires the difficult challenge of being firm, such as removing toys by the third reminder ‒ despite the impending tantrum.
Less is more
Most parents tend to talk more when toddlers don’t listen.
However, this could potentially confuse a toddler who doesn’t have good receptive language or early auditory processing skills. Therefore, a good hint is to be simple, direct and brief.
If you’re not sure if your toddler can understand and orally comprehend when you ask her to pack up or get ready for bathtime, try this little trick: use the same language to offer a special treat or activity.
We do need to be aware that poor listening skills in a toddler can actually be a sign of hearing impairment, although this affects less than 2 per cent of kids.
Toddlers with medical problems like glue ear, repetitive ear infections and sinus congestion are more prone to occasional hearing difficulty.
However, these toddlers tend to be more inconsistent poor listeners.
Similarly, kids with early speech problems might possibly have a hearing problem.
Toddlers who have been exposed to illnesses, such as measles, whooping cough and mumps are more prone to hearing loss. Kids who turn up the volume very high, who listen when you face them (focusing more on your lips), but who don’t appear to listen when you’re close behind them, may have a hearing difficulty.
In any such cases, visit your family doctor for a quick check-up, possibly followed by formal hearing assessment.
Fortunately, a good majority of childhood hearing difficulties respond very well to treatment and intervention.
In most cases, an actual hearing difficulty isn’t the cause. Toddlers will usually respond well when we keep it simple, short and engaging.
In time, poor listeners become good at hearing with consistency and plenty of positive recognition.