Communicating With Kids

How to Turn Your High Energy 3 Year-Old Into a Better Listener

Inside: A simple strategy when your 3 year is out of control, ignoring you and flat out not listening. Post contains affiliate links which means if you make a purchase I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

I was awake for only 15 minutes, and I was already dealing with my 3-year-old not listening. My daughter stood at the coffee table banging a cheap plastic maraca, and directly across from her, my son was simultaneously doing a headstand and screaming for me to look at him.

3 year old not listening

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During the morning commotion, I attempted to chat with my friend Rachel about a project we were working on. And between messages to her and sips of coffee, I told my son to sit nicely on the couch and gently removed the maraca from my daughter’s hand and put it in the freezer. Except…

Related: 10 Totally Awesome Tricks for Independent Kids 

My 3-year-old wasn’t listening.

Teaching kids how to listen is like hanging your clothes out to dry in a torrential downpour. It takes patience to wait out the storms of power struggles and temper tantrums to see the break in the clouds.

It takes perseverance to look at all the rain and hold out hope that it will stop soon.


It just takes an electric dryer.

3 year old not listening x

When your 3 year old is out of control, this phrase is handy.

Simply put, this phrase is to parenting what the electric dryer is to sopping wet clothes. It dries up the energy and primes your kids for better listening waayyy faster than if you let them hang out to dry.

But first, you should know that there are two big reasons phrases work well in general:

  1. Phrases offer consistency and routine. When you use the same parenting phrases again and again, your kids learn your phrases and how to respond or problem solve in response. Think of phrases as regularly flipping on a light switch in the brain.
  2. Phrases offer short bursts of communication. And we know from science that kids respond best—especially younger kids—to short, succinct bursts of communication.

Recommended Reading: If you enjoy parenting based on science, you’ll love The Whole-Brained Child.

One simple phrase can help your high energy child.

As my son continued with the headstands and bouncing all over the couch like a kangaroo who landed in Sydney, I knew it was time to bust out the 3-year-old not listening parenting phrase.

But before I spurted out my phrase. I wanted him primed and ready to hear the phrase. I said two quick things:

  1. “You have a lot of jumps to get out.”
  2. “You can jump in the yellow chair.”

Then I said the golden words.

Immediately, he made his way over to the yellow chair in the living room. And as he planted his feet firmly on the chair cushion, I repeated my phrase three times…

“Get your jumps out.”

“Get your jumps out.”

“Get your jumps out.”

This phrase is perfect for high energy kids and here’s why: We know that simple exercise is a science-based way to improve kids’ behavior.
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When your child starts jumping, the brain recognizes this as a small stressor. As heart rate increases, the brain thinks your child is fighting or fleeing some bad guy down the street. To protect his brain from stress, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is released.

BDNF is awesome because it’s nature’s medicine for healthy brain growth and development. It repairs, protects, and improves the learning and memory capabilities of the brain by stimulating neuron growth in multiple areas of the brain. This is why kids feel more relaxed, connected, and happy after exercise.

When your child is ignoring you, it’s like their brain is literally not working. BDNF can help your child start to turn the corner.

Related: 2 year old not listening? Try this remarkable tip.

Why jumping and not something else?

First, jumping requires little-to-no instruction, and it doesn’t require me to do the exercise alongside him, which is especially useful if I am cooking dinner or tending to my daughter.

Second, “Get your jumps out” created a consistent way for our son to quickly release his energy. Over time, he started getting his jumps out on the chair without me directing him. When he felt overwhelmed with energy, he had the tool he needed to solve the problem on his own!

Third, it was within a parental boundary we were okay with. I’m not a huge fan of running or soccer or karate in the house because it usually ends with kids hurt and crying. And that doesn’t help anything. But jumping allows kids to release energy without getting hurt.

Try it today.

Choose a jumping space in your home that will work for both you and your child. You want it to be a safe space, but also a space that your child has easy access to.

In our living room, my son is allowed to jump on the yellow chair, but a jumping space could be anywhere: a bed, a mat placed off to the side of a room or even a medium cushion on the floor.

If you aren’t sure where to have your child jump, we bought our son this mini trampoline from Amazon and it was worth every penny!!

Boy on small indoor trampoline

Anytime your high-energy kids can’t listen or focus, direct them to a jumping space and say, “You have a lot of energy to get out. You can jump here.” Once they start jumping, encourage them to keep going saying, “Get your jumps out. Get your jumps out. Jump. Jump.”

This may sound ridiculous to you, but it’s made a world of difference in our home, and if you’re as tired a mom as me, then I know you’re open to try just about anything.

As for kids banging maracas on the coffee table, I highly recommend hiding them in the freezer next to the hidden chocolate.

Print this free listening checklist.

This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!

Here is a sneak preview…

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Download Your Free Printable

    1. Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join 20,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
    2. Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
    3. Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!

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  1. What if they won’t listen to your “get your jumps out”? I have a mini trampoline and have been trying this and sometimes get a NOOOOOO in response. 🙂

  2. What to do when his constant jumping is knocking things off a neighbor’s wall? When living in an apartment, outsiders must be considered and not forced to understand as they may have health problems of their own.

  3. My son will be 4 in less than 2 weeks. He is a lovable little boy, and loves his momma, I am a single mom and he does have his papa, who is definitely one of his favorite people, but, of course it’s not exactly the same as a dad. During my pregnancy and up until just not too long ago, I didn’t feel like not having a dad around would leave such an effect. But, my son doesn’t seem to listen to woman like he does men and it drives me crazy! He’s great behavioral wise while at headstart and doesn’t have issues. BUT AT HOME! Whole different story! I feel terrible about how frustrated I get but when I say my child doesn’t listen, I mean it! He does not listen to me or grandma well at all. Time outs don’t seem to be effective, I put him in and he will not stay. So i so it over and over but, like i said…. not so effective. He wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to. I was thinking about possibly getting a chart, so when he does good and listens or etc… I’ll break it down more of course so he is able to understand…. but he will get to put a sticker up. Another thing, I hate to say it, but he is not completely poddy trained. You only can do so much, as they have to make the choice themselves, which leads to the issue. He wears underwear every day to school and etc. But at home, he’ll just pee in his pants. And getting him to go poo on the toilet is almost impossible, NOT SURE WHAT ELSE I CAN TRY?!?!
    What are your thoughts on a chart for the poddy training?

    And just a side note, lol if I were reading this as an outsider, I might wonder if this child may have add or adhd…. doctor’s have assured me they don’t see any of these kind of behavioural issues so far.

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