How To Teach Your Child to Come When Called

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9 tips to get your child to come to you when you call. Your little one can learn to obey and listen and come. Read this post to find out how!

Child running on grass

“When do they stop running the other way when you tell them to come?” my frazzled friend asked me one day. She had just told her three year old to come to her and the three-year-old literally ran in the opposite direction.

Sadly, they will not just start listening and obeying at some certain age. 

The day does not come that your child will just start coming to you when called unless you take some measures to ensure your child will come when called. That means you need to teach your child to come.

Over the years, I realized that I teaching a child to come might be more about what I don’t do than what I do. It is at least equal in importance.

Here is what you need to know to get your child to come when called.

Have expectations and consequences in all areas of life

You want to start with a solid foundation.

If your child is used to listening to you and used to you meaning what you say, then you telling your child to come will be no different than you telling your child to do anything else. 

The converse is also true. If your child is used to do whatever she feels like despite your instruction, then you telling her to come will be no different.

If you frequently give instructions, get ignored, and do nothing to follow through and be sure your child obeys, then you can’t realistically expect your child to listen when you tell her to come to you.

So your first step is to make sure you require obedience in general. You want to have clear expectations and clear rules. If your child disobeys, you need a consequence for not obeying you. 

One of my favorite books for getting in the best frame of mind for correcting children is Parenting With Love and Logic. You can read all about my thoughts on Parenting with Love and Logic here

If you do not know where to start, read up on my Discipline 101 post.

Teach your child what you expect

Children often need to be taught what obedience looks like. They are not born knowing what is okay and what is not okay. We often forget that as adults.

Children are new to the world and don’t know everything we know. The often need things spelled out for them so they know that when you say X, you expect YZ from them. So teach your child, at a time of non-conflict (so not right after you have called for her to come), “When I call to you and tell you to come to Mommy, I want you to come to me right away.”

Do the practice at home when you are both calm and happy. You can make it fun. You don’t want the first time your child puts into practice “When I call, you come” to be at the park. You want to work on it at home so you both know she knows what is expected. 

Expect your child to obey

Once you have taught your child what is expected, expect that your child will obey. If your child does not obey, have consequences in place. Do not say, “Oh well. She is only two so she is going to do what she wants anyway.”

She can obey. She won’t be perfect, but she can be pretty good. Children live up to expectations. If you expect obedience, your child will be more likely to be obedient. Yes, your child will test your boundaries at times. Make sure the boundaries stay in place so your child knows what they are. 

Something I don’t do is I don’t let them run away from me or ignore me when I tell them to come. I think that is the number one key. If I tell them to come, they will come even if it means I go pick the child up and carry her to where I was when I told her to come. 

Do not tell your child to come unless you intend for her to come. If you are going to tell her to come, then shrug your shoulders and decide it wasn’t that important anyway then she will learn it is okay for her to ignore you. If you won’t follow through, then don’t give the instruction.

When you tell your child to come, expect that she will. Your child can discern what your expectation is. Children live up to expectations. 

Require a “Yes Mommy”

This is so simple, but requiring your child to respond with “Yes Mommy!” after you give an instruction will set up your child for success. It is harder to ignore an instruction if you have just agreed to it. 

I am one who waits for eye contact and that is enough for me from the young ones. But you could also teach your child to say “ya” (a child’s version of yes) if she can.

>>>Read: How To Get Your Child To Obey With a Simple “Yes Mom”

Say the child’s name before you give instruction

Parents often call out instructions without being sure they have attention first.

When you want to call your child to you, start with the name. Say the child’s name and wait for a response. When the child has acknowledged you, give the instruction.

Bonus points for eye contact if in the same room. You can say, “McKenna?” wait for that “Yes, Mommy.” “McKenna please look at me” and wait for her to look at you. Once she is looking, give the instruction. 

Over time, your child will learn that you want her to look at you when you give an instruction. This is a great idea in general. It is easier to follow an instruction if your focus is on the instruction. If you are coloring while receiving the instruction, you aren’t going to listen as well. Requiring your child to look at you is helping set your child up for success.

Also, think of what a benefit this skill will give your child in the long-term perspective of communication skills! Eye contact is so valuable to have. 

Don’t just call out, “McKenna! Come here!” and expect a response.

Call her name and then pause. This is when “yes, Mommy?” comes in handy. However, when you are teaching a child to come, she will literally be incapable of saying “yes, Mommy.”

Speak calmly and kindly, but not with a question

Say, “Brinley….[yes mommy!]…come here please.”

Do not say “Brinley….[yes mommy!]…Time to come here, okay?” or “Brinley….[yes mommy!]…will you please come here?” Do not ask a question unless you are okay with a “No thanks!” response.

Please note, the issue in the last example was not the word “please”. I love to use the word please because I think it helps teach my children to be polite. “Brinley…[yes mommy!] Come here please!” or “Please come here!” 

The issue is the “will.” Will you please come here? Nope! 

You can still be kind without questioning your own authority.

I like to speak kindly and use my manners. “Come here please” or “Come to Mama please.”

Praise and thank your child for coming

When your child comes when called, respond with a “Thank you for listening to mommy!” Or you might say “Good girl! Thank you for coming to Mama.” You might even give a hug and a kiss.

Give lots of positive reinforcement. What toddler wouldn’t want to come to Mommy when she gets 50 kisses upon arrival? 

This adds positive reinforcement to your child, which is super powerful for helping your child learn and practice appropriate behavior. You are working to teach your child to come when you call, so you want him to learn that coming when called is a positive experience. 

Have a consequence when your child doesn’t listen

You want to have a consequence when your child doesn’t listen. It could be a timeout. It could be the loss of TV time that day. It might be the loss of the toy that is distracting her. It might mean she doesn’t get to walk herself and has to be carried. For some children, a stern look might be enough.

Be consistent and be sure your child’s behavior changes in the future. If you don’t see a change in the negative behavior, your consequence isn’t working. You need to find what works for your child as far as consequences go. Try different things until you find your child’s currency.

Know you will be tested

It won’t always be so simple. Your child will without a doubt test you on this.

Children are little scientists. They are the best kind of scientists. They aren’t looking to sway the results in any direction; they only want the truth.

They just want to know what makes the world tick, and you are a huge part of that world.

“What will mom do if I tell her no? What will mom do if I ignore her?” Your child will test you. Be prepared for it and be prepared to respond. It is so important to respond consistently so you can help your child learn to make sense of things. “What will mom do if I tell her no? Oh! I get a consequence. I don’t want that consequence again so I will listen!”

You will be tested again. The more strong-willed child will test more frequently than the super obedient child. Just keep at it. 

One day she will look you in the eye and then run the other way. Or she might be slightly more confident in her ability to make decisions and just stay put and ignore you.

Maybe she just found a grasshopper and has decided watching the insect is of far more interest than coming to you.

This is the crucial moment. This is the moment that sets the stage for the future. This is when you do not allow her to ignore you. 

I usually go first to my “Mommy look” and use my mommy voice to give the child a chance to reconsider. “McKenna. You come here.” This will often get the child to realize that yes, I indeed did mean what I said and turn around and come to me.

But not always. If not, I then go get the child and carry her to where I wanted her to go . This is especially distressing to toddlers because they want to walk everywhere themselves. I remain calm. I remain confident. I don’t let my blood pressure rise at all. I just make it clear to the little one that running away from me actually isn’t what I meant by “come to Mama.” 

Conclusion

These tips can help you teach your child to come when called. It takes teaching, patience, time, and consistency, but you can get there!

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Reader Comments

Angela said: This is so important for safety. And with triplets I was determined to do things differently! It can be tiring to be consistent especially with three 2 year olds, but the benefits are amazing! Thanks for sharing! I hope to do a post on this soon re: multiples and will definetly link to your advice! I really need to work on the eye contact and yes, mommy more!

Dani said: I’ll add one more technique: active discipline sessions. I would get a handful of animal crackers, call one of my twin girls to come to me and give her a cookie. After one or two sessions of this, I did a few with the reward of vigorous physical affection (hugs/kisses/lifting up). Then, when one of them failed to really obey, we would play the game for a few rounds to give them more practice.

Rebekah said: Great article, It’s so hard to find sound advice on this topic. Also, for us, when our daughter didn’t come when she was called we would literally go to her, take her by the hand and lead her back to the spot we were standing when we called her. All the while encouraging her to be obedient and to come when she was called. Now we are so blessed when she comes at the 1st call!!

Kristy said: This is a great post and a great breakdown of the issue!

Anonymous said: Great post! My 18 month old comes to me fairly well but there are times she doesn’t and I do what you described here. I think your most important point is to be consistent and also to be patient……it’s not something that is going to be effective overnight. It may take months of enforcement before the child complies on a regular basis. I’ve found this to be one of the most challenging things about being a parent….being consistent every day for many months. But it eventually pays off!

LaChelle said: This was really helpful. I have started implementing this every chance I get throughout the day b/c Carter (19month old) was only coming upon being called about 25% of the time. It’s something I must start being more consistent on. thanks for the post.

Janelle said: At first I felt silly trying to chase my toddler down and he just thought that mommy running after him was a fun game. But after a few months of being carried to where he was supposed to be whenever he didn’t listen he realized it was not a fun game! Feeling silly for a few months has definitely paid off now.

Erika said: Something I did when my DD was an infant was everytime I picked her up I would say “come to mama.” She heard that a thousand times for the first 10 months of her life so by the time she was crawling it wasn’t a new concept.

Reader Questions

Rebecca said: At what age can I expect to be confident that my child will do this consistently? Currently he is 13 months and does come when called about 50% of the time. The rest of the time I usually end up having to go get him and bring him to where I called him from.

Answer: It really varies. See this post to know when to expect obedience and how often: How Often Can You Really Expect a Child to Obey

9 ways to teach a child to come when called

This post originally appeared on this blog December 2010

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