Encouraging your toddler to listen and cooperate can sometimes be a challenge. So many parents tell me that their little ones have suddenly started saying “no” to everything, have difficulty sharing, have become picky eaters and throw tantrums when they don’t get their own way. It can be a tough time for parents, but these behaviours are developmentally normal and healthy. Toddlers begin to independently explore their own identities, separate from their parents. Pushing boundaries is their way of exploring how the world works. It’s also worth remembering that children of this age are going through a critical period of brain development, with 90 per cent of the brain developing in the first three years of life and more than a million neural connections being produced each second. Additionally, toddlers won’t have developed attention skills yet, so they have difficulty maintaining focus for very long. Their language skills are generally limited and their thinking is very literal, making it hard for them to understand and process everything you say to them.
Here are some tips for getting your toddlers to listen and cooperate:
- Read to them.Reading aloud is one of the best ways to improve your toddler’s listening skills and also helps strengthen your bond. Use silly voices or emphasise certain words or phrases in stories to grab your toddler’s attention.
- Get their full attention. Minimise distractions by turning off the TV and putting your phone away. Get down to their level or pick them up so that you can look them in the eye. Speak in a calm, friendly tone of voice.
- Give simple, clear instructions. Use simple words, and keep instructions brief and to the point. For example, “Time to pack up your toys now.” Sometimes offer reminders in a single word, such as “teeth,” if you want them to brush their teeth. Pause for a few seconds, then ask them to repeat the instruction back to you to check their understanding.
- Use positive language.Instead of “Don’t run into the road,” use positive alternatives such as, “Walk on the pavement, please.”
- Use when/then phrasing. Make it clear what benefit or reward your toddler can expect in return for behaving and completing the task. For example, “When you’ve brushed your teeth, then I’ll read you a story.”
- Make listening fun.Put on silly voices, pretend to be their favourite superhero, or sing songs to encourage them to listen. Toddlers are more likely to cooperate if you change routine tasks, such as getting dressed, into familiar games that they have played before. For example, “Simon says, put your hands up,” (and then slip your child’s top on).
- Praise and reward cooperation. Show that you appreciate good listening skills. You could say, “I felt so pleased and happy to see you listening and getting quickly into your pyjamas. Thank you.”
- Model good listening skills.Toddlers learn a lot by observing you, so show that you are also listening to them by being attentive, making good eye contact and reflecting back what they say.
Written by Dr Genevieve von Lob, Clinical Psychologist (www.drvonlob.com). Von Lob’s new book “Happy Parent, Happy Child: a 10-step plan for a stress-free family life” came out in December 2018.