Can you ever actually convince a toddler to listen? The jury is out.
We’ve all been there. If your two-year-old hasn’t picked up a giant pack of Freddos in the supermarket and refused to listen when told to ‘PUT THEM DOWN NOW’, have you really parented?
The average toddler is a fickle beast. Especially when it comes to switching on their ears. Ask them to return the choccies to the shelf? No dice. But whisper under your breath to your partner that MAYBE you’ll get babyccinos after the park? Yeah they’ll hear that loud and clear (and won’t let your forget it).
But HOW do you get your toddler to listen to the things you want them to listen to? Fear not. There are easy ways you can encourage your tiny tyrant to pay attention to what you have to say.
How to Get Your Toddler to Listen (Really)
1. Scale back your demands
Flexibility is the name of the game. Around the age of two, your garden variety toddler begins to understand that they exist as their own person. They’re no longer an extension of mum but a proper little person with their own thoughts, ideas and plans. Sometimes (often), these ideas, plans and desires don’t exactly match up with mum and dad. This is when flexibility and scaling back your expectations comes into play.
If your toddler has their own plan and are hellbent on carrying it out, try and incorporate this into your actions. Instead of “Stop eating that dirt NOW,” and dragging your toddler away from the mud puddle, try: “I see you’re enjoying eating that dirt. Maybe we could use our shovel to DIG with the dirt and you can eat these crackers I brought”.
2. Set the example
Toddlers mimic the behaviour of those around them. Raising Children suggests trying to speak to your partner, friends and children in the way you’d like your child to speak and listen to you. So if you’re wondering how to get your toddler to listen, pay attention when they speak to you. This helps them learn, first hand, what ‘good’ communication looks like. It also shows your child that you really (truly) hear what they’re saying (instead of the distracted, half listening many of us employ to get through the day).
Active listening involves getting down to your child’s level, making eye contact and showing interest and understanding in what they are saying. How does this help THEM to listen to you? You can use your physical and emotional position to ensure you get the measure across. From a crouching position, you’re able to deliver your message clearly. Duchess Kate is a big fan of this technique when Princess Charlotte and Prince George play up because IT WORKS!
3. Save ‘no’ and ‘stop’ for when they’re really needed
It’s SO easy to try and stop a toddler in their tracks with a stern ‘NO’ or ‘STOP’. While this is sometimes necessary, the words lose all their power when overused (and we all know how easy that is to do!). The Evolutionary Parenting Network suggests working out an alternate word/phrase to use for ‘everyday’ issues so that when you genuinely need to let rip with a ‘NO’ or ‘STOP’ it packs much more punch.
4. Reward the positives
When was the last time you praised your toddler for listening politely/not interrupting/waiting their turn to speak/actually doing what you asked? Paying attention to what they’re doing wrong is easy, it’s always on our radar, but rewarding their good behaviour isn’t as automatic. Try and make a habit of praising them when they do the right thing and ensuring you mention exactly what it was that they did so well. Instead of saying, “Good job mate,” extend it to something like, “Well done listening when Mummy asked you to put down that toy, you did such a good job!”
5. Keep it simple
Sometimes we can overwhelm our littlest people with a whole list of instructions that, quite literally, goes in one ear and out the other. This is especially easy to do when you have older toddlers who can handle a number of instructions of varying complexity. It’s easy for a “Put that down!” to escalate to a “Put that down! Are you listening to me? If you don’t put that down and go and get your shoes and jacket, we’re going to be late!” So many instructions, so little time.
Your average toddler will be torn between putting down whatever they’re holding, trying to listen and forgetting what else you’ve asked them to do. This will probably end in tears and confusion. Considering your demands and keeping them simple makes communication easier and will hopefully lead to more compliance and less drama.
And if all else fails and you’re still not sure how to get your toddler to listen, bribe em’ with that babyccino (not really … well not unless you’re desperate).
Need some more tips for taming toddler tantrums? Check out our toddler development guide for plenty of useful info and insights.