Teaching Child to Come When Called


I had the question a while ago of how I teach my children to come when I tell them to.


I wasn’t really sure. This isn’t something I have a concrete plan for, it is something that happens. I knew there had to be something I did, but I wasn’t sure what it was. 


Shortly after that, I was visiting with my neighbor when her twins went running off–ignoring her as she told them to come back. She said, “When do they stop running away when you call? I can’t remember?”


I started realizing 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.


What 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. 


Here is a break down of what I do and don’t do to teach my children to come to me when called in 10 simple steps.


1-Do 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.


2-Do mean what you say.

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.


3-Do expect compliance.

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


4-Do use the child’s name.

Start by calling the child’s name when you want her to come. “McKenna!”


5-Don’t tell your child to come if you don’t know she heard you.

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 in capable of saying “yes, Mommy.” 


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.


6-Do wait for eye contact.

Wait for your child to look you in the eye.


7-Do speak kindly.

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


8-Don’t expect her to know something she doesn’t. 

Your child might have no idea what “Come to Mommy means.” If this is the case, walk over to her and pick her up and then move on to the next step.


9-Do praise.

As soon as your child comes to you, 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? 


10-Do expect to be tested. Pass that test.

It won’t always be so simple. Your child will without a doubt test you on this. One day she will look you in the eye and then run the other way. Or she might be slightly more condifent in her ability to make decision 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.” 



So there you have my 10 step process to teaching your child to come to you when called. Hopefully this will help you to teach your child to come to you when you call.








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20 thoughts on “Teaching Child to Come When Called”

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. you make it seem so easy. My 20 month old is SOOOOO defiant. We've tried everything and he still seems to test me when I call. It's incredibly frustrating to me!

  4. 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!!

  5. 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.

  6. I'm not sure where else to leave this comment but I've got a couple of immediate questions. I'm hoping I can get something back before 2 weeks because this is kind of an immediate question. First, I accidentally subscribed to be updated through my e-mail of posts and I need to be unsubscribed. It is flooding my e-mail inbox. Second, I am a first time mom and my new son is 12 days old today. I am working on implementing babywise and I've got a quick question about a bump I've run into and I'm not sure how to deal with it. My son seems to be getting on a pretty good 3 hour schedule…starting at 8 am. I bump up his evening feedings to 2 1/2 hours so his last feeding is either 10 or 10:30. At night he is pretty consistently 3- 3 1/2 hours and then he wakes on his own to feed. One problem though, one of his night feedings falls at about 4 or 4:30. He goes back to sleep but then he is waking up at 6/ 6:15ish and not going back to sleep very well unless I give him the pacifier, which falls out so he wakes up so I eventually put him in bed to make it easier. This has happened 3 nights in a row. I am trying to make sure he's getting a full feeding at 4, and I think he is, I just don't know why he is waking up after not quite 2 hours?? I'm not sure what I should do. I tried letting him cry it out, but after about 15 minutes he is still upset and not going back to sleep. I want his first feeding to be at 8 so I don't really want to feed him at 6:15 cause that will kinda screw things up and I don't want to just give him a snack either. Any suggestions? Thanks for the help…I really appreciate it. Thanks again!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. Callie_Brooke, there should be an "unsubscribe" link in emails coming to your inbox.For the night feedings, see the posts: nighttime sleep issues: revised and updated as well as "early morning feedings before waketime." Those will help you figure this out.

  12. I have an 18 month old foster daughter and am really getting frustrated with this. It isn't really fair that it bothers me, because we have only had her about 2 weeks, but it drives me up the wall. The little girl I baby-sit (and the little girl I used to baby-sit) were both pretty reliable at coming when called by about 15-18 months, but Miss Baby (as I call the foster daughter online) is at about 10%! I try giving her treats when she comes, but she is pretty chunky already, and don't want to give her to much junk. I try using my "angry voice" and she just gets all sad looking but doesn't comply. I have tried to make it a game, with lots of hugs and kisses and YAYs when she comes, but mostly she just ignores me. So I just go get her and make her sit with me for a minute or two, but I don't know if she is getting the correlation. I guess it could take months for her to figure out, so I better work on my patience!

  13. I never really payed attention to how important this life lesson is. I took my three year old daughter to the park last week. E became engaged with another little girl playing. The girls both started running for the fence line. I told E to come back she was to far from me. I got a pause and look from her then she kept running. I let her continue, she was having so much fun and was along a fence line. Then the fence disappeared and led out to the ROAD. Both girls bolted out of the park and toward the road. I could not see my daughter. I panicked and frantically yelled after her. I had my toddler I had to grab up and run after her. Our fun day at the park ended. I realized that I can never allow her to disobey. My baby could have been hit by a car or stolen. I also set a bad example for my toddler who is already starting to run from me. Thank you for this article, I wish I would have found it sooner. I hope other moms can learn from my story.

  14. Oh I bet you were so scared! Thanks for sharing. I am glad this learning experience didn't end with a sad story.

  15. Valerie, I have been working with my one year old since infancy with many of the -wise series recommendations–i.e. independent play time, teaching her the word no, boundaries (house proofing your child and not child proofing), blanket time, etc. As we have entered into this new stage of pre-toddler hood, I'm wondering what a realistic time period is to expect her to begin listening the first time. Here's the thing… I catch myself (as an early educator) having unrealistic expectations of my daughter. I think she can understand me like my 4-year olds did. I know this isn't true, but I still want to hold her to a high standard of obeying the first time, etc. I know discipline is a step-by-step process and it takes time and resolve for her to learn. I'm also using the FTO method which has been so helpful. My daughter is so sweet and I want to celebrate her wins without always looking for ways we can improve. (Perfectionist at heart right here.) From mom to mom, (other opinions also welcome), how long should I expect this training process to take while teaching her the word "no' and thus other boundaries? Grace is a hard thing to have for yourself and your children. I am so thankful for the Lord's unending grace and am encouraged by you and other moms who have posted on your blog. Thanks so much for allowing the Lord to use you in this unique ministry!

  16. That is definitely a tricky one! I have s post on obedience percentages. You should look that up–it will probably make you feel a lot better about how things are going. Pre toddlers are still learning. Toddlers are still learning. Preschoolers test boundaries in a major way. Really it isn't until 4 that your child gets pretty consistent about obeying. Then some are just more naturally obedient than others. Oldest children are usually also major rule followers.


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