Monday, 30 March 2015

Six Ways to Get Toddlers to Listen

Some days it can seem like your words go 'in one ear and out the other.' Here are some tips to help you communicate more effectively with your toddler.

Stop, look, listen
It may be the golden rule when crossing the road but this is also vital when talking to your toddler. Stop what you are doing, crouch down to their level, look your toddler in the eye and really give them your undivided attention. You may need to gently hold a toddler still or ask them to 'look at my eyes so I know you are listening'. They know you mean it, and you know they really have heard.

Keep it short
If you are giving your child an instruction bear in mind their age and development, with a toddler that means avoiding anything long or too complicated. A four year old can probably manage 'leave your bike by the door, wash your hands and sit up at the table for lunch.' but a two year old would need this broken up into many stages. You can't blame a toddler for not listening if they forget a long request or get confused part way through.

Use consequences
If you find that your child doesn't listen when you ask them to do something it can help to use natural consequences to reinforce your message. In the park the natural consequence of not listening when it is time to go would be getting left behind so, after a five minute warning, you ask the children to get their toys and come home then start walking away. Walk quite slowly so that they can easily catch up, and of course you will need to stay within a safe distance, but make it clear that you really are leaving. The first time you may need to go out of sight before they catch on (leave before a friend so there is still a trusted adult nearby) but before long they will realise that "time to go" means just that and come running when you call. The trick is not to use artificial punishments but the natural consequence of not listening.

Give Explanations
When you are asking your child to do something they are reluctant to do it helps to explain why. Remember that they deserve the respect implied in an explanation rather than an order, "tidy up your toys now so that we can go to play at Samuel's house" or "your hands are all muddy from the garden, wash them really well before lunch so you don't get muddy sandwiches!" Engaging your little one in this type of conversation helps them to understand how the world works, they begin to absorb the reasons and rules behind your instructions so that in future (although it may be a few years from now!) they will know to tidy up before leaving the house simply because it's the right thing to do, without needing to be told.

Don't give explanations!
There are times, however, when explanations are out of place. If your child is about to do something dangerous they need to listen to a short, sharp "no!" or "stop" immediately and without question. There are also times when a child will ask to do something or have something and you simply have to say no. I firmly believe that it is a parents role to make some decisions, like saying no to watching particular films or eating sweets just before a meal, and that your child needs to accept this without tantrums or lengthy explanations each time. Keep your "no nonsense voice" for these sorts of occasions, look your child in the eye and give your answer firmly. Once you have given your answer don't give in no matter what and your child will very quickly learn that you mean what you say.

The key to communication with toddlers, particularly when giving an instruction or turning down a request, is to be consistent. No has to mean no, always and no matter what. If "no"  sometimes means "if you make enough fuss I'll give in" then you can't blame your little one when they don't believe you!