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First Time Obedience: How To Get Your Toddler To Listen The First Time

Now that you’re baby is getting big enough to put himself into danger, I’m sure you’ve thought about first-time obedience at least a time or two. Getting your toddler to listen the first time has nothing to do with oppressive control.

Somewhere in late 20th century folks began teaching a skewed version of Authoritative Parenting. They called it Authoritative Parenting, when what they were teaching was, in fact, Authoritarian Parenting. So if you find yourself concerned about the term first-time obedience, let me assure you, we are not drill-sergeant mommies and I do not teach women to have robotic little soldier children.

The truth is, first-time obedient toddlers is important, it’s possible, and it’s not unloving or harsh to train.

Not getting run over in the parking lot or stolen at a park, is a good thing.

And if you think I’m being sarcastic… I am.

But, honestly, not much. You’re going to want to keep reading.

Transitioning to training your toddler means you have to dig deeper into your child-training efforts. As a baby, your little one had pretty basic needs.

He was hungry, so you trained him how to eat the best foods. He needed sleep, so you trained him how to fall asleep and get the rest his body requires.

Now that his cognitive abilities are increasing, you have to start upping your parenting-game. Getting your toddler to listen the first time is all about follow-through. And that my friend, is the name of the toddler-training-game.

toddler not having first time obedience while standing on blue chair with ballon

Getting Your Toddler To Listen The First Time Requires Preparation

Be Clear with Expectations

Your toddler won’t know what you want him to do or not to do the first time unless you know yourself. Set the standards and make them known. Be clear and concise. I love absolutes. Absolutes make life easier.

For example: “You must sit down on your bottom now” is a clear absolute. Whereas “Please stop moving so much in your seat, I am afraid you will fall.” is subjective and not well-suited for a toddler’s mental cognition. It’s OK (and kind) to use those words; however, you’ll see the best obedience results when you follow them up with the first example.

Be Consistent to Follow Through

If you decide sitting on his bottom at every mealtime is a must (which is an excellent standard,) then be prepared to enforce it every single mealtime.

Be Complete in Your Parenting

Whatever rules you decide on must be enforced. For Instance, it’s great to train your little one to walk through the grocery store. As you begin to train him in responsibilities like this, be sure to make your standards known.

For example: “You may walk as long as you stay by mommy. If you choose to walk away from me, you will be buckled in the seat.” When he walks away, buckle him in the seat.

You don’t need to explain what you’re doing, and you don’t need to have a conversation about it. It’s best not to say a word. Don’t respond to crying, protesting, etc.

Toddlers are cause and effect. It’ll only take a few occasions in which you display clear, consistent, and complete parenting follow-through before he can walk beside you in the store without leaving your side.

Getting Your Toddler To Listen The First Time Requires a Process

Alright, let’s pick just one example to walk through the process of training your toddler to listen the first time. Once you understand how the process of getting your toddler to listen and obey the first time works, you can duplicate it for every child training scenario.

Do Not Throw Toys

You give your toddler a toy truck. He plays with it for a minute, then chucks it across the room. He’s not being malicious; he’s testing out his body. He’s exploring and discovering what he is capable of. However, toy trucks are solid and will certainly hurt someone.

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So you tell your child, trucks are not for throwing. You have one more chance to play with this truck correctly. If you throw it again, you will not be able to play with it. You give him the truck; he plays for a minute, then throws it again.

Walk across the room, pick the truck up, and put it somewhere high that he can not get to it. You do not need to say anything at this point; however, if you would like to reinforce the point, you could say something along the lines of, “You chose to disobey, so you do not get the privilege of playing with the truck anymore.”

At this point, it would be great to offer him a soft squishy ball. Telling him that this is the kind of toy he may throw. Should your child choose to cry after you removed the truck… walk away! Don’t say anything, don’t show frustration or exasperation… walk away. Go into another room, or at least to the other side of the room.

Once your child has calmed down (regardless of how long that takes), go back and address him, as though starting from scratch.

We have a little more time, let’s look at another example.

Do Not Whine

Once a family member told me how much he loved being around my children because they didn’t whine. He was amazed at how, if they did start to whine, I could say, “that’s enough.” And my child would seemingly just shut-it-off.

Of course, what he didn’t know was how much intentional child training had gone into their ability to do that. So, let’s follow the same process with the whining as we did for the toy truck.

You give your child a drink of water in a red cup. He doesn’t want the red cup, he wants a blue one. Wanting a blue cup isn’t disobedient. We all have preferences, right? However, he’s demanding the blue cup in the worst, most-shrill whine he can muster.

So, you tell him, “I can’t understand you. I will give you the blue cup if you ask for it correctly.” (depending on how much training you’ve done on this will determine whether or not he’ll be able to ask for it correctly. )

Once he says, “blue cup please!” Swap out the red cup for the blue one.

Click here for a pack of spill-proof cups that will give your child color options and you some breaks in between cleaning.

No Water is an Option Too

What if you don’t have a blue cup clean? Is it OK to require that he use the red one? YUP! A cup is a cup is a cup. Ultimately, he’s getting a drink of water, and indeed we should all be grateful for fresh, clean water.

If no blue cup is available, your response to his whining then becomes, “you may have a drink in the red cup or no drink at all.” Set the cup on the counter and walk away. Nothing else needs to be said. It’s his choice to make. Red cup or no cup. Again, no response is necessary. And certainly, no response should be given if he is crying, whining, or fussing.

Why Is Getting Your Toddler to Listen The First Time, Important?

When you establish a culture of first-time obedience in your home, it grows as your family grows. This culture is the key to why my kids don’t whine, how I was able to potty train them all at 21 months, how I am able to homeschool all 4 of them, keep my hubby happy, run an online business, care for a 7-acre mini-farm and still have time for myself. (read more about potty training here)

First Time Obedience Keeps Your Child Safe

A homeschooling friend of mine was once on a trip with her three beautiful teenage girls. They had decided to stop for some food. Unfortunately, the only place available was a hole-in-the-wall in a shady area at a questionable truck stop.

They decided to take their chances, prayed over the circumstance, and stopped for food. After having ordered their food, they sat down to eat. When they were done praying, the mom noticed 2 men sitting a couple of tables down.

The men didn’t have food and were obviously just loitering. The mom kept her eyes and ears open and began to get nervous. She overheard just enough of the conversation among the men to know she needed to get her girls and get out of there fast.

The men were making plans to distract the mom and take one of the girls.

The mom said these 6 words only, “get up and follow me now.”

To which, the girls immediately responded and obeyed. They left the table, full of food, went quickly to their car and got out fast!

Had those girls hesitated for a minute, disaster may have happened! I am not a helicopter parent, and I do not live in fear. Part of the reason I am able to do that is that I know my kids will listen right away, the first time, every time!

Consider Making First Time Listening (aka) First Time Obedience a Must

You are set up for success because you have this perfect little mold-able toddler to train. Be intentional, train him clearly, consistently, and completely! Follow a simple cause and effect system to get your toddler to listen the first time. And don’t relent! Your little one is just too valuable!



  • Lisa says:

    My son is almost 3 and when he is told to do something and doesn’t want to do it, he will hit and pinch. It’s like he is intentionally trying to hurt me to stop whatever was asked. (Change a diaper, get dressed etc). Or when he is told not to do something picks up and throws something or the other day He was sitting on my lap and I was working and told him not to touch my computer and he picked up and dumped my cup of coffee on my keyboard. What’s the best approach with handling that ?

  • I think you hit the nail on the head with the number one key to parenting, that is often the hardest. Consistency, No matter what topic, nor which challenge you are facing with your child…consistency is the key to success. Whether sleep, mealtime, obedience, etc… I know for myself the next challenge to face that will need consistency for success is beginning potty learning for my 19 month old. It’s exactly why I haven’t started yet. Until I know my approach and make the routine so i can be consistent I am not starting yet. Lack of consistency causes confusion for kids and usually leads to tantrums and emotional blowouts. This is true for all ages (I was a nanny for a good few years before becoming a mum). Well written post!

  • I have a very strong willed almost 3 year old and I can say these are very good tips. Being consistent and always following through with what you say is so important. Great post!

  • Elizabeth says:

    I had the same issue with my daughter when she was about the same age. I remedied it by putting her on a leash. This may not be the answer you are looking for, but it worked for me. I was going through cancer treatments and was very weak, so running after a toddler was NOT an option. She out grew it, she is now a 22 yo mother herself

  • Courtney says:

    My problem with my almost 3 year old son is that he is a runner. We cant just walk from the front door the car without him running off. When I say stop or come back, and I’ve even tried “if you get in your seat nice well get a cookie!” Nothing works. He thinks its hilarious. I also have a 3 month old boy and chasing my toddler down the street with a carseat is a nightmare and embarrassing! I see other toddlers walking with their parents nicely all the time and I cant help but ask myself what I did wrong and why cant my son do that?

    • Abbey says:

      My son is almost three and thinks it’s hilarious to run off. When i say stop he looks at me, smiles, and does it anyway. I’m lost.

      • Shelley says:

        Hi Abbey! I know this is a common problem for moms. Unfortunately, children can create a bad habit by forming a game out of dangerous behaviors. I’d recommend you read this post here.
        Thank you for sharing!

    • Shelley says:

      Hi Courtney! I know that’s frustrating! The good news is dangerous habits such as these can be remedied. I’d recommend reading here. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your heart!

Hi there! I'm Mama Duck,

I'm a stay-at-home/work-at-home, homeschooling Mama of 4 beautiful kiddos, wife to my loving husband, Parenting Coach, Speaker, and Writer. I adore the sound of my children's giggles, that first sip of hot coffee, and a snuggly blanket fresh out of the dryer. Here on Faithful Parenting, my heart is to equip mamas with the skills, knowledge, and biblical wisdom to raise fantastic kids and build a tethered family!