My Kid Won’t Listen!

Annie The Nanny

Annie The Nanny

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Annie the Nanny is a professional parenting educator. She writes a weekly advice column for parents who need help with their children's behaviour. Her advice has also been featured on CTV, CBC and in all kinds of print media. For more information about Annie, please go to her 'about' page.

Hi Annie,

My kid won’t listen. She is 19 months old. She throws her food on the floor after eating and won’t stop no matter what I do. She is starting to hit and won’t say sorry afterwards. She is quite the stubborn cookie! Having said that, she is a great, happy girl. Thanks Rowena.

Hi Rowena,

My kid won't listen

That’s great to hear you have such a happy little girl, even though she won’t listen. You’ve asked a really great question because your little girl is between phases, so to speak, and a lot of parents have difficulty negotiating the changes between what’s needed for one phase and what’s needed for another.

As babies move into toddlerhood, they enter their first major change in life. They are driven to find out more about their world, to see where they fit in, and to see just how much they can sway events around them. However, our society often mistakes this period as a drive for independence, and if it’s misread, it can cause significant problems.

My kid won’t listen: Toddlers don’t want to run your family

In one way, it is a drive for independence, but only in a very limited sense. Toddlers don’t want to run things; they simply want the joy that comes with accomplishing simple tasks by themselves and for you to notice their growing abilities. Most children are driven to explore the boundaries of their world between the ages of 18 months and two and a half. A big world with not enough firm boundaries feels unsafe, and a toddler in that kind of environment is unhappy. A world where everything is done for them as it was when they were babies is too confining. A toddler’s parent’s job is to find the right ground. Many parents have trouble navigating this change and need the help offered by a professional behaviour intervention specialist to start them off on the right track.

My kid won’t listen: So what does this mean in practice?

To help you understand, I’m going to tell you a story about how certain difficult behaviours develop. I’m not saying you’re here yet because you’re not, but that’s why it’s really important to understand that you’re entering a new phase where a different approach than the one that worked for her as a baby is required.

When a child first tries a particular behaviour they usually do it randomly. Let’s say you’re out at the park with your best friend and your daughter tries to hit you because she’s frustrated over something. Perhaps she’s been on the receiving end of a hitting playmate or seen a little buddy do it. You don’t want to appear mean by grabbing her arm to stop her, and you certainly don’t want to cause a scene, so she gets away with smacking you.

As soon as she’s done it, though, you look upset, shocked to see your little one act like this, and embarrassed in front of your friend. For her part, she sees your reaction to her hit and suddenly feels very odd. It’s a weird feeling because the person she looks up to suddenly looks confused and out of sorts. She doesn’t understand why you’re upset. She only knows the feeling your upset creates in her, and it bothers her. She wants you to look normal, be normal, and show her where her boundaries lie with confidence. In that moment, however, you don’t feel confident. You feel perplexed, but soon you let those feelings pass, and things go back to normal.

Later, she tries again, but this time you’ve invited Granny to dinner, and you despise confrontation, so you try to smooth things over. “She’s just having a bad day,” you think. The behaviour worsens as the days and weeks pass. Now she hits routinely. Okay, you think about it. It’s frustration. If I just try to calm her down and explain why it hurts, she’ll stop. So you try and rationally explain to her that hitting hurts. You pull a face. “Ow, that’s not nice,” you say, but the behaviour doesn’t stop; it gets worse.

You start avoiding situations that are frustrating or bring on the behaviour on, so you rush to accede to her demands more quickly than you ever have before so she won’t get upset. You sit her on your lap, asking, “What’s wrong?” The trouble is, she gets more demanding, not less. She doesn’t know what’s wrong, and herein lies the key.

Your child is trying to tell you something

You’ve said your kid won’t listen.  Ok, but you see, children show their discomfort through their behaviour.  If there’s a problem, they’ll ring the doorbell, which is you, until you answer the call and deal with the problem, providing the leadership and boundaries they need.

In your case, your little girl is just entering this stage, and none of the behaviours you’ve mentioned are entrenched, but she is testing you, so you need to consider very carefully how to respond.

You want to be firm but loving. Provide the boundaries in a fair and clear way, and make sure you’re not a pushover. You also want to do so calmly, without a whole lot of attention devoted to her naughtiness.

So what does that mean in practical terms? Well, if she’s at her table and she throws her food, take it away for a few minutes. Say something simple like, “Oops, the food’s gone.” She’ll probably get upset, so wait a few minutes and be involved in something else, and then replace the food. If she throws it again, remove it. Give her two or three tries to cooperate, and if she doesn’t, allow her to get down from her highchair and then nonchelantly clean her up. Then, let her get a little hungry. Yes, you may have to put up with some whining, but look cheery and not bothered.

Then, at your next meal, try again. I doubt she’ll be hungry enough for you to have a problem.

My kid won’t listen: Keep expectations clear.

By dealing with things in this manner, you not only remain calm and loving, but you also send a clear message about what is and is not acceptable.

To get more of your parenting questions answered, please visit my parenting services page.

Hope that helps,

Good luck,


Do you want to enjoy your next summer with kids that enjoy life rather than whinge.  Check out this article on enjoying summers with your kids.

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