02/21/2014 11:32 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2014

Talking to Toddlers So They Will Listen

"As parents, we guide by our unspoken example. It is only when we're talking to them that our kids aren't listening." -Robert Brault

Listening has been a hot topic around here lately. Well, more specifically... not listening.

My son, in all his just-turned-3 glory, has been giving us a serious run for our money. He is not a bad boy (though we admittedly tell him he is 100 or so times per day). He is not a bad person. He is not any more challenging than any other just-turned-3 little boy on the planet, I am sure.

But he is stubborn. And a touch defiant. And definitely has a streak of mischief in him that is a mile long.

The problem is not really him, however. It's us.

We have become those parents who are already annoyed before anything annoying happens. Who use time-outs like crutches, handing them out from morning to night. We are letting power struggles with a toddler take away our power as parents. We are losing our cool, yelling too much, and in general, not leading by example.

Not only does it affect our son, though not in the ways we hope it would (i.e. it doesn't really faze him when we get mad; he kind of laughs at us, which is even more frustrating). But it's affecting our daughter and how she looks at us as parents and at her little brother, too. We always say we don't remember the terrible 2s with her, but the truth is, she obviously went through them and she didn't have another sibling in the house to compete with for attention at the time, so it's a different approach. And most importantly, it's affecting our family dynamic. Days that should be carefree and easygoing turn into hour after hour of punishments and threats. Moments that should be funny become annoying. Memories that should be happy are filled with frustration instead.

We know this is a phase. We know that he, like any toddler, will start to understand rationale and emotion and the word yes... (we can only hope). But in the meantime, it's up to us, as parents, to start to understand that how we choose to parent this strong-willed, passionate, incredible little man is how we can lead by example. How we can make him a better person. How we can give him a stronger foundation. How we can create a happier home.

"It is only when we're talking to them that our kids aren't listening."

So does that mean no more rules? No more time-outs? No more talking to our kids? Obviously not. We believe in discipline and boundaries and options and communication.

But I think we also need to believe in leading by example a little more. In working to communicate in other ways. In picking our battles. In giving ourselves more time-outs.

In guiding by unspoken example.

And hoping that he will listen.