21 answers

How to Teach a Toddler to STOP

I have a VERY active/handful of a toddler. He is 2 1/2 and never slows down except to sleep at night. My problem is that when he is running around and I ask him to STOP he doesn't listen. He listen to me most the time when he's not running around. My problem is usually when I'm asking him to STOP it's to prevent him from getting in trouble or hurt. Like for example if we are playing outside and he starts getting near to the street I ask him to STOP and he doesn't listen and then he's in the street and I have to hurry and catch him before a car does. We've tried time outs for not listening, my husband has even tried scaring him. Nothing seems to work. Does anyone have any suggestions? I'm scared I'm not going to catch him one day and he's going to get really hurt.

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If my Toddler-girl doesn't listen I have to get down to eye level with her, ask for "eyes & ears, please" and explain is simple terms, "it's mommy's job to keep you safe, when you run away and don't listen to mommy it scares me". Then I have to add what we are doing, what is expected of her, the why and the how of what we're doing. I almost speak in cave-man talk so it's easier for her to understand.

I think that engaging scare tactics, yelling, etc. only serves to escalate the situation. Have you considered that his behavior is related to adjustment with a new little sister?

Good luck and good mommin'!

1 mom found this helpful

My son ran out towards a busy street one time and i paniked and just grabed him and spanked his but really hard a couple of times, and he never ran out in the street again. he was about 2 or 3 at the time. i also reiterate that cars cant see you. you are not tall enough yet. he is now five and does pretty good. good luck.

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If my Toddler-girl doesn't listen I have to get down to eye level with her, ask for "eyes & ears, please" and explain is simple terms, "it's mommy's job to keep you safe, when you run away and don't listen to mommy it scares me". Then I have to add what we are doing, what is expected of her, the why and the how of what we're doing. I almost speak in cave-man talk so it's easier for her to understand.

I think that engaging scare tactics, yelling, etc. only serves to escalate the situation. Have you considered that his behavior is related to adjustment with a new little sister?

Good luck and good mommin'!

1 mom found this helpful

My rule is you never teach counting to three, as they become desensitized and when it is urgent they are waiting for you to count!! That is wrong on so many levels so not sure if you count, but don't. Alethea's word "FREEZE" Is great, it isn't stop or no, but something they que that makes your request VERY IMPORTANT. All the boys I watch know this word when we are outside. They are to freeze!

Second, tell him once, then if he doesn't listen, pick him up and remove him immdediately. If you are outside, ask him to stay away from the street, if he doesn't listen, take him inside immediately explaining he HAS to listen to you at all times.
If you go somewhere, confine him to a stroller or shopping cart telling him that he doesn't listen and when he starts staying with mommy you will allow him more freedom. Make him earn it.
It took my son a while as he wanted to walk with me at the grocery. Trial and error and him being put back in the cart several trips now he will stay with me, I keep him occupied with helping me put in apples and pick out stuff, but he stays with me. If he walks away even just once, he is back to the cart!

Be very firm, consistent and don't assume time outs don't work, it takes a while before he gets he will be punished. Time outs don't work overnight. the best thing is to immediately stop the activity.

Don't wait until he is in the street, tell him once and then get him away from the street or tell him he isn't allowed to play outside if there is a street because he is CHOOSING not to listen.

When he gets he has to listen, then explain how badly a car can hurt him, explain there are strangers out there and him running off is not okay, be honest, even blunt. Both of my kids know exactely why I have rules like this.
They get crazy inside and someone always gets hurt, at their age 4 and 7, my typical response is caring they got hurt but also reminding them why I tell them to calm down inside!!! Takes a few times and they got it! :) Hang in there.

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Hey L.,

Play practicing at home is how I got my toddler to listen! We played Red Light Green Light at home and just had lots of fun with it. Now whenever I want her to Stop I say "Red Light" and she knows it's time to Stop and not go again until Mom says "green Light" It also helps that she thinks it's a game and not yet another rule her mom is telling her to do!

Good Luck!

I have a very active 2.5 year old too and can sympathize with you on this one.

We have taught our son the "Red Light, Green Light" game to help him stopping in situations like what you are talking about. This does seem to work most of the time because it is now a game for him and not mommy and daddy telling him to stop. After we "Red Light" him we have a few seconds to get over to him and redirect him.

Good luck and take care!


Whenever you use the word STOP because of impending danger make it very clear what the danger was. Refrain from using the word STOP all the time. This word get to be totally associated with impending danger. On other occasions use words like "don't do that", "slow down", "Wait a minute".

If your son still doesn't realize what the word STOP means,
you may want to get some professional help to keep him safe.

Wishing you a safe New Year,

I hear you, sister. This takes practice and consistency. Here are a few things that have worked for my family:
I often say to my boys (ages six and three) "I need you to look at me so I know you're listening," before I give instructions and that helps quite a bit.
You could also practice by playing "Red Light, Green Light" in the safety of your living room, maybe with a little prize for listening--but I think this would backfire if it got punitive, as in "Oh, no, you can't have the toy because you didn't listen. Too bad." You want him to listen and repsond, not resent the idea of listening or tune you out because it all seems like nagging. Playing listening games is good for school preparations since it's a developmental milestone to be able to follow multiple-part instructions, such as, "I need you to get your shoes, get your coat, and meet me by the car." Your boy is still growing into that, but you get the idea.
My boys also respond when I wait for the response instead of continuing to shout "Stop! Stop! Stop!" (I realized that if I keep saying it, I am teaching them they don't have to respond the first time because the request keeps coming.)That doesn't apply to some dangerous situations, but if they are running around like nuts in the kitchen I usually make a clear request and then follow through. We do have a rule: "Always stay close in parking lots," and I think that's helped a lot, especially now that I have three kids and cannot hold onto everyone. I think it's helpful to give directions in positive terms, since toddlers are literal thinkers. Saying "Please walk slowly with me," is more effective than saying "Don't run! Don't run! I said, stop running!" All the kid hears is "run! run! running!"

I really, *really* recommend the book "How to Talk so Kids will LIsten and Listen so Kids will Talk." It seriously changed my life. I am not mad all the time or yelling the same things that don't get any response. It's been out for awhile, so you could find it cheap online, like at www.amazon.com or www.powells.com or even at the public library.
Best wishes and congrats on your growing family!

You could turn it into a game. I read about a woman who did this with her children: She would periodically call out "Freeze!" and everyone (herself included) would have to stop whatever they were doing and hold perfectly still. Whoever was the stillest won the game. Anyway, it made it fun for the child in question, and they always stopped when she said "freeze." Maybe you little boy would respond better if you make it like a game - it could teach him to hold still long enough for you to get him out of danger.

Hey L.,

I can understadn that you're having difficulty. Try using the word Freeze rather than stop. Kids hear stop so often that sometimes they tend to ignore it. If you try playing a game at home using the word freeze to illistrate its importance it may help.

My son ran out towards a busy street one time and i paniked and just grabed him and spanked his but really hard a couple of times, and he never ran out in the street again. he was about 2 or 3 at the time. i also reiterate that cars cant see you. you are not tall enough yet. he is now five and does pretty good. good luck.

For getting him to stop for a street, try practicing the word "freeze" with him. Make it a game, freeze, go, freeze, go. Too many times the word stop gets overused and doesn't carry to impact we'd like it to have. GL!

There is hope! But keep in mind this stage varies in length with each individual child's personality and mothering styles. My son was 18 months old when my daughter was born so I had many moments like you described. What helped was constantly reminding him on the way to the park etc. that if he ran away 1 time we were going home and then actually taking him home (kicking and screaming)! I only had to do it a couple times (it would work for a while and then he would forget or I wouldn't remind him enough on the way to the park). Keep in mind I found that taking him to the park after 2 years of age was much more difficult due to him trying new things and losing fear of heights. So for months I could not go to the park without another adult, especially when my fearless daughter started tackling the playground. Oh and ALWAYS go to fenced in parks.

To get the baby and him in the car I insitituted a mandatory backpack leash system. That way I could safely put the baby and bag in the car without my son running around the car or allover the inside of the car. Also the leash allowed me to navigate all different types of situations where I really needed both of my hands or at least one hand besides the one holding the baby. You can find really cute animal backpack leash systems at Target and walmart for around 10 dollars. Both my kids loved it! With my daughter (the 2nd one) I mainly used it at the zoo, museums, etc. we still use it for her in highly populated areas due to her strong strive for independence!

Good luck!

A couple of my kids have been this way, and it is HARD! And then on top of that it's irritating to have parents with those docile little sit and be content kind of kids to treat you like you are an idiot or a bad parent when they have no idea what it's like! (obviously I've run into that, huh? lol)

With one of mine, using "FREEZE!" has worked wonders! He just started ignoring "stop" because it applied to a number of things, not just 'stop running away from me' kind of situations. Once we turned it into the "Freeze" game it made a huge difference! He also really thrives on positive reinforcement, so when he was praised for doing such a great job, and when we'd talk about how wonderful he was at the game or that he one the game or whatever, he really just lit up. It gave him responsibility for the situation instead of being on the end of being told what to do.
Another of mine just wears the animal shaped backpack/leash thing because he will not cooperate. He likes carrying his special toy or whatever in the pack and it makes it feel less like he's leashed up. Obviously that only works when we are going places, not if we are out in the front yard playing; for that, we just have to be super vigilant!

One idea that was given to me was to try playing "Red light, Green light." (Instructions at the bottom) As your toddler learns that game, then you can say "Red light" to him instead of stop. It gets their attention because it is something different and fun, and hopefully he will stop. When I tried this with my boys, they usually turned and smiled if they didn't stop all together, and that at least gave me time to catch up. Try to be patient, too. It won't be too much longer before he finally understands the dangers and can keep himself safer.

To play "Red light, Green light"
Kids line up at one end of the room, parent at the other end. Parent turns away from kids and says "Green light." Kids begin moving toward parent. After a few seconds, parent turns back around and says, "Red light." Kids must stop moving. If parent sees kid moving, the kid has to go back to beginning. Repeat turning around until one child reaches parent and that child is the winner. That child then takes the parent's place as the stop light.

oh. . . love the tots!!! mine is also 2 1/2 and we go through many of the same things. things i've found that help (a little) is changing my own speach, or doing something more unexpected, instead of the routine of "trying to run away, i should stop, no listening, time out" and try it all over again :) i don't even know how best to describe this. sometimes if my daughter is having a hard time hearing me i just stop, try to touch her, (not force her to look at me) and say "can you hear me? did you hear me? are you hearing me? are you being a good listener?" and then she realizes we're not just in a battle of wills. . . . good luck, it's just the phase i suppose, but it is very frightening. i call this the age of ability. they become so able to do so many things and so independent, and we love to see them grow that way, but it reminds me of my parent's puppy, a german shepard, at 5months old her body was way too big for her brain. she go pummeling down the front steps of the porch and her tail would end up at the bottom before her head. . . . big and able, but just not able to put together the consequence and judge the speed and such. good luck!!! and let me know if anything works!

The backpack leash allowed me to leave the house. When my second was a baby my older 2 year old just wouldn't listen to me and even if he did it was only for a moment and he'd be off again. I got the really sturdy backpack that he couldn't remove and yes, got the rude comments about my kid no being a dog, but I had sanity. My son loved the freedom and I loved that I knew where he was. It worked really well for us and eventually he gained the maturity to understand why he needed to stay with me and not participate in dangerous behavior.

I haven't read the others' replies, but I would say have that little guy's ears checked.
If there is nothing wrong, I would put a "leash" on him, and when he doesn't stop, pull him gently up short, get down on his level and explain what "stop" means. It may be a mother-to-toddler miscommunication. Make a daily game out of it so he will be obedient when it counts most.
Good luck, I had a daughter just like your son. She's 33 now, and finally listens : )

He may have gotten used to hearing the word stop to a point where it doesn't affect him when he's so busy at something. Try switching the word, to something you only use when he has to stop right away (not just stop something that irritates you). Maybe FREEZE (if he knows what that means). Say it in an urgent tone of voice and a bit louder than you normally use.

Yes, L., I feel your pain! I live with that very 2 y/o! When we are outside, I have a playpen for him. I got it at Walmart and bought the two extra panels for outside. I use it with its original six sides inside when I'm making dinner, using the bathroom, etc. Sorry I can't remember the brand of pen, but it's gray plastic with circles. Be aware, if you have a climber (I do...he climbed literally before he could walk), he'll put his toes in the little holes and climb out. My son climbed INTO his crib, out of his high chair, onto a table, over a couch, up the drawers in the kitchen, onto the BIG (10 foot) slide outside...you get the idea. He also climbed out of a regular pack-n-play by putting his foot over the top and pulling (at 18 mo). So, to combat the issue in the pen, he wears shoes that he can't get off. (hard to find, keep looking). As for the car, I put my 2 y/o in first (He can't undo his carseat), then buckle up the others. I did the same thing when my second was born (buckled up the older one first while baby was in the house in her carseat). As for teaching him to listen, be consistent. Don't be afraid to also use the pen as a "naughty spot." When I put him in there with no toys and use the word "naughty" he understands its punishment and not play time. He now actually says "sorry mommy" when he wants out. If you find something that works, please PM me. I'd love more ideas, too! :) Good luck and keep us posted!

There was a Teletubbies episode where kids played "Stop and Go" where a kid was "it" and yelled STOP. Everyone had to stop. Then someone else yelled "GO" and everyone got to run again. My daughter started playing this game on her own and now gets what it means to stop. We play the game while going on walks - we go on sidewalks, but stop when we get to a driveway (to look for cars).
The game gets annoying when it's cold and you are trying to walk into a store, but it was worth it for her not to run into the street.

I guess that's why they call them "terrible two!" Give two options of everything you guys do. Example: We either do this or this and nothing else. I am a Early Head Start Teacher, and one thing that alway work is, start counting when they ignore you. Once you start counting they know that they have to be some where before the count of three. And give him rules, go over it with him before you go outside.
Then when he gets pretty busy in the house, have him help you do little chores around the house. I had a child in my class that was very busy like that, and the specilist that came to our class had me take him the library and have him carry books back and forth between the classes and that would tire him out. A little bet of lifting, or something that will tire them out, really works. Other then that, if you don't keep them busy, they will keep themself busy.

this is a hard age, especially the for the boys, who are always pushing limts, and parents. my son is two right now. but fourtunately, he's at an age where is comprehending a lot, like a little sponge. we had problems with my oldest going in the street. and we tried time outs, put her in the corner, took toys away, etc. until one day i came home in a rush and almost hit my then three year old daughter who was, yep, in the street by our drive way, and her friend. i was furious. i sent the other little girl home, told her to tell her parents she'd been playing in the street and that i'd be over later to make sure she did(she was 7), and went inside and spanked my daughter several times, put her in the corner for twenty minutes, and when that was over, put her on my lap and told her that thr street was a dangerous place, that cars could "get you" and give you bad owies, and make it so that you would never see mommy and daddy again. i told her i was scared that she could get hurt by a car, and that you only go in the street with mommy or daddy. i told her i know that her little friends like to take her in the street but that she needs to tell them she won't go in the street and that it's not safe for kids. i also made sure she knew that mommy and daddy love her very much, and don't want her to "go away" because a car got her. i had to go through this two or three more times but she's got it and now helps to make sure her younger sibilings don't go in the street. kids are smarter and understand more than we give them credit for. hope this helps, good luck.

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