A really common issue with parenting a toddler, is getting them to listen to us so that they do what we ask. I’m sure it’s not just me who has asked a toddler to do something and they have immediately run off in the opposite direction! There are a range of factors at play here, but here I just want to talk briefly about communication. How can we talk to our toddler in a way that is more likely to get their cooperation?
1. Firstly, make sure they are actually paying attention to you. Get down to their level, gently touch their shoulder and say their name. Make sure they are listening. If you haven’t got their attention, you could be repeating yourself until you are blue in the face. Think about how much of what we adults say goes way over their heads. They need to know that this is something worth listening to. Don’t bother saying the same thing again and again when they just aren’t listening – start over with getting their attention first. Then give them time to process what they have heard.
2. Say what you want, NOT what you don’t want. If someone says to you “Don’t look over there!” the first thing you want to do is look over there! It’s exactly the same for your toddler, in fact it’s even harder for them as they have very little impulse control. If you say “Don’t touch that!”, the first thing they are going to do is touch that thing. All they hear is “touch that”. Sometimes you even put the idea in their head: it hadn’t occurred to them to touch the TV screen until you told them not to. Instead, try saying “Hands on your head!” Or, “Show me how you can walk”, instead of “Stop running!” It takes practice not to blurt out “Don’t do that!” and to turn it round to say what you want instead, but it is effective.
3. Make it fun. Toddlers love a competition, or a game. They also love to help you. Instead of just telling them they need to go upstairs and get ready for bed, make it a race to see who can get up the stairs first. If they don’t want to put their pyjamas on, put them on your head and ask them if this is where the pyjamas go – they will be keen to show you where they should actually go, and it’s hilarious to see mummy or daddy being a bit silly! The more playful and fun you can be, the more they will want to join in with you. It can feel like a huge effort when you are tired and fed up, but putting the effort in upfront does save you time and upset later on.
4. Use fewer words. We REALLY over-explain things to our toddlers. If you want them to actually listen and process what you have said, get it down to the bare minimum. Their language skills are improving every day, but if you want results, don’t give them all the ins and outs and reasons why, just tell them what you need. Keep it simple, so they can easily work out what it is you want them to do. Otherwise you’re back to point 1, where they stop listening and go and do something more interesting.
It’s a bit of a skill finding out what works with your particular child. They are all different and some are a lot more amenable than others! If you are having real trouble with your toddler’s behaviour, effective communication is just one area that you can look at.
Books to read on this subject: