How to talk so your tod­dler will lis­ten

Change the way you ask, and you’ll be amazed by how your child re­sponds!

Mother & Baby (Australia) - - Contents -

Clever ways to com­mu­ni­cate

H aving a con­ver­sa­tion with a tod­dler can some­times feel like you’re in the mid­dle of a comedy sketch. You tell her it’s time to go home and she scam­pers off to the hard­est-to-reach part of the play cen­tre. You sug­gest putting her shoes on, and she holds onto her toes as if you were per­suad­ing her to feed them to your pet shark. Want her to eat her lunch but she hasn't fin­ished emp­ty­ing the Tup­per­ware from the cup­board? Oh the drama!

But there’s a good rea­son why com­mu­ni­cat­ing with lit­tle ones can be tricky. Right now, you’re talk­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages: you’re talk­ing grown-up; she speaks tod­dler. And life will be­come a lot eas­ier if you learn to talk tod­dler too – she’ll not only lis­ten, she might even do as she’s told!

Clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr Kerry Tay­lor says the first step in get­ting your tod­dler to lis­ten is by un­der­stand­ing how her brain is wired. “Tod­dlers haven’t yet de­vel­oped the part of the brain that in­hibits our re­ac­tions and helps us to stay in con­trol when we are over­whelmed with emo­tions,” says Kerry. “This is the last part of the brain to de­velop and it keeps de­vel­op­ing right up to adult­hood. And so tod­dlers are un­able to deal with emo­tions in the way adults are, and go straight from emo­tions to be­hav­iour. So, if she feels an­gry, she may in­stantly kick. If she feels sad, she may cry.”

Once you know that this link is miss­ing, it be­comes ob­vi­ous why she re­acts in the way she does when you ask her to do some­thing. Led by her emo­tions, of course she’ll protest when you want her to put her coat on and she’s an­noyed that she needs to stop play­ing. But with the right guid­ance, tod­dlers can learn to co­op­er­ate, even when that’s at odds with what they would like to do. “Chil­dren are strongly shaped by a par­ent’s pos­i­tive re­sponse to them,” ex­plains Kerry. “And our nat­u­ral ten­dency is to seek ap­proval.” It’s a happy cir­cle: talk to your tod­dler in a way that helps her act in the way you want to, and the praise you give her for do­ing as she’s told will make her more likely to want to do it again next time.

AVOID sur­prises

If you al­ways do things in the same or­der, your tod­dler will know what to ex­pect. So, think about not just the big­ger rou­tine of your day, but also the rou­tines within smaller tasks – for ex­am­ple, al­ways wash her hair in the same way. “Tod­dlers en­joy fa­mil­iar­ity,” ex­plains Kerry. “They like to know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, and when.” If she’s ex­pect­ing some­thing to hap­pen, she’s more likely to be co­op­er­a­tive when it does. “It’s a good idea to talk through your plans for the day too. Just let her know, ‘Nana is com­ing for lunch and then af­ter your nap we’ll go shop­ping.’ This will give her a sense of con­trol and time to ask ques­tions."

USE sto­ry­telling

When your day in­cludes an ac­tiv­ity that’s out of the or­di­nary, use sto­ry­telling to give your tod­dler a pos­i­tive im­age of what will hap­pen. “Make her the cen­tral char­ac­ter in a mini ad­ven­ture,” Kerry sug­gests. “Ask her, ‘Would you like to hear a story called Lucy and Teddy Go to the Doc­tor?’ You can then tell the story of how the lit­tle girl walked into the surgery, see­ing lots of in­ter­est­ing things on the way, and then met the doc­tor who checked her ears and Teddy’s ears too. And then make sure the story has a happy end­ing with some­thing fun to look for­ward to when they come

Chil­dren are strongly shaped by a par­ent’s pos­i­tive re­sponse to them.

home! She’ll fill in all the de­tails, and is far more likely to lis­ten. And if she has a tantrum dur­ing the ac­tiv­ity, re­mind her of the story – and par­tic­u­larly the end­ing.”

KEEP it short

Your tod­dler doesn’t need to know all the de­tails of why you would like her to do a cer­tain task. “It’s best to say, ‘Shoes on’, rather than, ‘Please put your shoes on be­cause we are run­ning late and Daddy is wait­ing,” says Kerry. “Giv­ing too much in­for­ma­tion is con­fus­ing, so stick to the ba­sics.” And only ask for one thing to be done at a time – so rather than say­ing, ‘Come here so I can clean your teeth,’ try, ‘Come here’ and then, ‘Let’s clean your teeth’. A use­ful way to gauge it is to ask your­self if the tod­dler could re­peat the re­quest – if she can’t, it’s too com­pli­cated.

SAY what you want

Have you ever no­ticed that when you want your child to do some­thing, you often start by telling her what not to do? “Let’s say your tod­dler is climb­ing at the park,” says Kerry. “You’re likely to say, ‘Don’t fall off’. But in­stead of say­ing what you least want to hap­pen, use pos­i­tive words about what you most want her to do: ‘Take it slowly, be care­ful.'”

TONE it down

The way you use your voice is just as im­por­tant as the con­tent of what you're say­ing. “Speech and lan­guage ther­a­pists have found that chil­dren re­spond best to a lower voice pitch,” says Kerry. “And the in­flec­tion on the end, giv­ing your voice a higher tone, gets their at­ten­tion and makes them stop and think.”

PLAY the game

Turn­ing a chore into a game will help your tod­dler lis­ten and re­act pos­i­tively. So, sug­gest that her Teddy (with a lit­tle help from you) helps put her toys back in the box, or ask if she wants to help get Teddy ready for bed while you get her ready. “Show her that do­ing as she is told can be fun,” says Kerry. Tod­dlers love com­plet­ing a task in a set time­frame, so add an el­e­ment of chal­lenge too. Play a song and ask her to see if she can tidy up be­fore the end, or see if she can come and hold your hand be­fore you count to five.”

PRAISE the pos­i­tive

If she co­op­er­ates, then let her know you’re happy with her be­hav­iour. “Recog­ni­tion is an im­por­tant part of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and helps her know that you are aware of

It’s tough be­ing told what to do all day, so when­ever it’s pos­si­ble, del­e­gate the de­ci­sion to her.

ev­ery­thing she does right,” says Kerry. “Use praise too just be­fore ask­ing her to do a task she’s not keen on: for ex­am­ple, ‘Well done for build­ing such an amaz­ing tower! Great work! Let’s have lunch now.’”

DITCH the neg­a­tive words

As you teach your tod­dler how to in­ter­act with her world, it’s nat­u­ral to say ‘no’ or ‘don’t touch’. But when­ever you can, con­sider whether you can use a word de­scrib­ing a gen­tle ac­tion in­stead. “If she’s pulling the cat’s tail, say, ‘Gen­tle’. Or, if she’s be­ing a lit­tle rough with her baby brother, say ‘Nicely,’” sug­gests Kerry.

LET her de­cide

It’s tough be­ing told what to do all day, so when­ever it’s pos­si­ble, del­e­gate the de­ci­sion to her. “Let her know that this job is a spe­cial task for her,” says Kerry. “Say, ‘I chose to wear a blue top to­day, what colour top will you choose?’” There is al­ways an el­e­ment of con­trol you can hand over to her: for ex­am­ple, if it’s time to put her shoes on, ask her, ‘Which shoe will we put on first?’

NAME that feel­ing

If she is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a strong emo­tion, ac­knowl­edge it. “Say softly, ‘I can see you’re feel­ing sad that you can’t carry on play­ing right now,” sug­gests Kerry. “This gives a name to what she’s feel­ing, and shows her that you care about how she feels. But don’t veer from your re­quest. Ac­knowl­edge her emo­tion again, and reaf­firm your re­quest, think­ing of a pos­i­tive rea­son why she might want to co­op­er­ate: ‘I can see that you’re sad, but it’s time to go to day­care. You can play with your friends at day­care.’”

RE­PEAT, re­peat, re­peat

When your tod­dler doesn’t lis­ten, re­peat­ing the re­quest usu­ally works. “Use short, firm rep­e­ti­tion,” says Kerry. “And don’t let her emo­tion cause you to be­come stressed. Show her you’re there for her, but re­main firm.” Athough this gen­tle ap­proach might take a lit­tle time to start with, by not es­ca­lat­ing the sit­u­a­tion, she’ll re­alise she needs to lis­ten. In time, and as her brain de­vel­ops and she’s bet­ter able to con­trol those emo­tions, she’ll lis­ten and do as you ask.”

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