One of the most common complaints I hear from other mom is, "My toddler won't listen to me." I have seen many a mom-- including myself, of course-- gesturing, repeating, and even yelling at toddlers to try to get their attention. Kids in this age range, however, tend to tune out their parents more often than not, especially in certain situations. If your toddler won't listen to you, you might be concerned about this irritating pattern of behavior. Here are some possible reasons that your toddler may not listen to you.
1. Normal Development
It is, fundamentally, normal for a toddler to fail to listen to his parents. Most older children listen to adults' speech because they can follow most or all of it. For a toddler, though, a significant portion of the a grown-up's speech sounds like nonsense, and he may simply be unable to understand your words. If your toddler tunes you out occasionally or even frequently, his behavior is probably completely normal. There is only cause for concern when your toddler never (or almost never) listens to you.
2. Cognitive or Language Delay
Your toddler may be listening to you, but not understanding you, because of a delay in his cognitive or language development. By age two, toddlers should be able to hear and respond to questions such as "What is your name?" and to follow simple commands like "Get the ball." But, for a child who has difficulty understanding language, these may sound like jibberish. Get in touch with your pediatrician if your toddler seems to understand very few words or can not answer any simple questions or commands by age two.
Parents can sometimes chalk a toddler's selective hearing up to defiance. Toddlers may choose not to listen because they're uninterested in what you're saying or don't want to obey you. "Time for a nap," might go seemingly unheard by a toddler who understands you completely but doesn't want to acknowledge what you've said. Some defiance is essentially normal, but headstrong kids may tune you out so often that you may suspect they don't understand.
4. Autism-Spectrum Disorder
Today, one in eighty-eight children will be diagnosed with autism-spectrum disorder, or ASD. This complex range of conditions frequently causes children to appear deaf or "out of it," and this may initially manifest as a toddler not listening or responding when his parents talk to him. The symptoms of autism vary widely in toddlers, but mention any apparent symptoms to his pediatrician, who can either offer reassurance or schedule your child for a developmental evaluation.
5. Hearing Impairment
Hearing loss and hearing impairment are not uncommon in toddlers. When children are born with deafness or severe hearing problems, they are usually noticed shortly after birth. However, acquired hearing loss-- caused by ear infections, trauma, or even loud sounds-- may go undiagnosed for some time. Your pediatrician can schedule a hearing test for your toddler if he doesn't seem to listen to you. The hearing loss may be reversible, especially if caused by an active infection.
6. Sensory Processing Disorder
Often confused with hearing impairment, sensory processing disorders may cause toddlers to be unable to listen to their parents. Children with these conditions can, objectively, hear normally. However, their brains do not process sound or tone correctly, so the toddler may be unable to understand speech, respond, or communicate. Sensory processing disorders can occur alone or as part of other syndromes, including ASD. A pediatrician or developmental psychologist can evaluate signs of this condition to find out if it's the reason your toddler will not listen to you.
Most of the time, toddlers do not listen to adults because of benign reasons, such as defiance or typical developmental patterns. However, if you are concerned, there is no harm in letting your pediatrician know. A quick evaluation can either identify the cause of a problem or reassure you that your toddler's development is, in fact, normal. Click here for tips from BabyCenter on helping your toddler learn to listen.
Related Work by Juniper Russo