Have you wondered, “How to get your toddler to listen?” Not just listen, but listen without any protest or tantrum?
Ever since the 2’s kicked in we have been in the “rocky emotions” boat. The “fun” in parenting was disappearing and I caught myself starting to wonder “do I understand my child?”. What happened you ask? Well, “Challenging Toddler Behaviour” happened.
Even though I read parenting articles and research regularly as a part of my job description as a mommy blogger, I found myself loosing our lovingly created peaceful family routine.
We practice gentle discipline in our home, we do a lot of talking, empathizing and trying our best not to yell even in the most challenging situations. In spite of this, we faced a lot of defiances and tantrums.
During this period, I missed out on a vitally important point. A point I make sure to remind everyone who practices gentle parenting, “Gentle parenting does not mean giving in and being a weak and submissive character in your child’s life.” We are conditioned to think of the word Gentle as submissive behavior.
What was happening was that in order to maintain peace and calm in the home, I was giving in to every tantrum and not setting the right limits and expectations in place.
Being a gentle parent does not mean we give in and not define boundaries for our children.
Once I realized what I was doing wrong, it was time to change the way I handled some of these difficult behaviors.
I shared my observations with my husband, and we came up with new ways to communicate effectively with our son and quickly saw a difference.
Our son’s behavior is calmer now, he takes guidance, he knows what is expected of him and follows through. There are still some areas we are working on trying to reinforce good behaviors and help him understand why we expect certain behavior from him.
These he will understand better in time. There is no rush, positive discipline is a process, it requires consistency and calm.
But overall these changes helped our family get on one page.
We have consistent expectations and consequences set in place. Making it easier for our son to follow through on a daily basis.
So here goes,
HOW TO GET TODDLERS TO LISTEN WITHOUT YELLING
1.Analyze the home situation and toddler routine
To address any problem area in your life what do you do? You introspect and analyze.
Think about the newest changes in your family situation. Eg. The arrival of a new baby, new daycare/preschool, back from a vacation.
Any change from the previous position of comfort can bring with it some challenging behaviors.
Sometimes everything is the same but the child is growing up and needs to assert some control over his surroundings.
At other times the schedule may be packed with no time to rest or just be still.
Maybe there is a lack in one on one interaction with parents.
You see? Your child’s behavior is a result of some discomfort in the environment. Children expressing their frustrations should be normalized. We should let go of these unrealistic expectations that someone with such little understanding of the world will behave in a rational manner from the get go.
These unrealistic expectations bring with them the many parental frustrations we experience. Read this post I wrote to understand more about age appropriate expectations from toddlers.
List out what you think could be possible problem areas and start with addressing these areas first even before you begin to address your toddler’s defiant behavior.
Always remember, bad behavior does not make your child a bad child, behavior is a response to something that the child is dealing with.
As parents, we must first address the root cause before addressing the defiant behavior patterns.
2. Start by listening
Do you want your child to listen? Well, are you listening to him?
It is so easy for us as parents to spend an entire day giving instructions. We may not realize how little time we spend listening to our kids.
In fact, research now shows spending quiet time listening and really responding to our kids is associated with our child’s future success. It all boils down to a simple rule; children need unfiltered quality time with their parents.
Encourage them to come to speak to you if they need anything and when they do come to you with stories, sit back and listen to them attentively.
Moral of the story, when we feel heard we are more receptive to others and listen better.
One way to get your child used to speaking up or sharing emotions with you is to incorporate a storytelling session in your daily routine.
In our home we make up stories; I encourage our son to come up with characters, places or situations.
This practice has developed confidence in speaking his mind. When inhibitions are lost its easier for the child to effectively communicate to you in moments of distress.
3. Simple instructions
Toddlers do not understand long detailed explanations on why they should not do certain things. Keep it short and simple when talking to kids 2-5 years of age.
Instead of saying;
Don’t walk there, you will fall and break your bones
Instead of saying;
Don’t throw your food, don’t you understand you are wasting food, breaking the plate, wasting my money (I know we can go on a rant when we see wastage!)
Hands are not for throwing, hands are for building/helping.
This means instead of constantly reacting to the mess created or the situation that’s going out of hand, keep instructions simple for your toddler to follow through.
For more effective phrases to use with toddlers so they listen, read here.
I too am guilty of giving long-winded explanations. I would wonder why my son doesn’t get it when he repeated the same behavior again. Duh? Of course, he didn’t understand my apparent logical reasoning, he has a short attention span, he is only picking up a few keywords. Every time I give a long explanation I lose his attention.
4. Understanding his point of view
One very important point that we miss in our day-to-day routines revolving around timelines is to understand the toddler’s point of view.
Once we take a step back to note why he did what he did, we begin to understand his needs or loopholes in our instructions.
A toddler wants to play, he has no personal timeline, and that’s an important point to remember as you push him to follow a routine set by you.
You may want him to start getting ready for playschool, but he wants to play. Of course, he will not listen. What do you do then? Read on in the next point.
5. Making it a game
This strategy has worked really well in our home. I had a tough time getting my son dressed every time we had to go out of the house. He always wants to play some more instead of getting ready.
This is what we do. Every time he says he wants to play I give him a time, ‘you have 5 more minutes to play’. To explain the concept of time point to the hands of the clock or use a sand timer. The child agrees, then when the time is up, make changing clothes a game.
You can say “Let’s see if you can get dressed in 3 minutes” Set a timer on your phone. Kids find this an interesting game and happily comply.
Other times you can simply ask your toddler to get dressed. Most 2-3-year-olds are interested in dressing themselves.
Ask in a playful way. “Let’s see you wear your pants and tee” This takes more time, but putting the control back in his hands is the easiest way to get him dressed.
Stick to a routine. You find me repeating this point in every parenting blog post I write. A routine is crucial for young children. When your child knows what’s next, he is mentally prepared to follow along. Setting up a routine that suits your family takes a while, but once set, a routine is your best bet to get your toddler to listen to you without having to scream your lungs out.
Related reading : What I do with my toddler everyday.
If park time is every day at 5 pm, he knows its park time, he will get dressed in time. If you are struggling with setting up a strong family routine, I highly recommend checking out this e-course by Pulling Curls on Family Routines. It will help you figure out how to structure your day and build the foundation for an organized routine that suits your family.
7. Use of natural consequences
This brings me to the next very important point, the use of natural consequences.
For the child to follow through on instructions he needs to understand the consequences of his actions when he doesn’t.
For example: If your toddler throws food constantly. You can say, “When you throw food on the floor, mommy takes away the plate” If he continues to do so, you have to follow through and take away the plate. This reaction to his action is a natural consequence – when I throw food, the food goes away.
At the same time make sure to explain, we respect food on the table. If you don’t want more tell mom it’s enough, or if you don’t like something keep it to the side of the plate.
Example 2. When getting ready to go to the park, and your toddler continues to throw a tantrum and does not want to get dressed, you simply state, “When you are dressed we can go to the park” then if he doesn’t get ready in time you skip a day at the park.
This method should be used rarely and only when the follow-through action (go to the park) is related to the original request (get dressed).
So, if you want your child to put away his toys and he continues to ignore your request the natural consequence should be taking away privileges to playing with toys if the request is not followed through. You cannot say you don’t get any more candy or T.V, these have nothing to do with your original request for putting away toys.
Using natural consequences is a more effective discipline strategy than yelling, or emotionally manipulating. It teaches toddlers about the effects of their own actions and helps them to follow through when instructions are given.
However I don’t recommend using it all the time. Our first approach must be connection and understanding the cause of behaviors.
Here is a wonderful article on how to use natural consequences.
8. Use a calm and confident voice
The tone in which you speak to your toddler is particularly important when trying to instill positive discipline. You don’t want to yell and join in their chaos, neither do you want to use endearing words like “sweetie, or darling” when giving important instructions. These sugar-coated endearments take away the seriousness of your instruction.
What you need is a calm and confident tone of voice. Sometimes you may need to repeat your self over and over again in the same calm and confident tone.
When the adult around them is confident in his actions and words, the child is calmer.
An adult who is unsure on how to react or too dominating creates an imbalance in the child’s world. They are either doing actions out of fear or left unsure of what exactly is expected of them.
This is why the consistency of words and actions is very important to set the tone of positive discipline in the home.
Positive discipline does not mean giving a free pass to unacceptable actions, it means being able to be Captain of the ship and handling all stressful situations in a calm and collected manner.
Your child looks up to you for direction and you provide him with the necessary direction.
Related reading: How to be a calm mom
9. Set firm limits
As I already mentioned in point 7, use natural consequences and follow through in case of misbehavior or ignorance of instructions.
Certain situations demand the use of firm words that bring across your point quickly. Example when your child is about to cause harm to himself or others.
This is what you say in such situations;
When your child is hurting another child,
“I won’t let you harm the baby” then gently pull the toddler away.
There is no need to reprimand or show your disappointment. Simply explain to him why we don’t hurt others when at home or when he has calmed down in private. Do not publicly humiliate your toddler’s feelings.
Also, make sure to apologize to the victim. Your child learns through observing you, therefore asking him to apologize is not effective. That only makes him feel humiliated.
10. Notice and reinforce good behavior
All this talk about discipline does not mean you ignore the times your child willingly does things correctly. When the child displays expected behavior reinforce the behavior with your attention.
I see you put back all your toys in the toy basket. Now we have a clean play area.
Don’t go overboard and use words like Superb! Good job! every time.
Use words that acknowledge good behavior without making it a huge celebration.
It is important to reinforce good habits for what they are, good habits- not some sort of an approval acquiring mechanism.
WHAT TO DO WHEN IN THE MIDDLE OF A TODDLER TANTRUM?
The points I mentioned above are more of what to do around a toddler who won’t listen. But what should be done during a toddler tantrum? At such a time how to get your toddler to listen without yelling.
1. Connect: Get down to his level. Toddlers need physical touch to calm down. Hold him gently by the arms and look him in the eyes, then speak.
2. Show empathy: Let him know you understand how he feels. “I know you enjoy throwing toys in the air” or “I know you are feeling bad the toy was taken away from you”
3. In short, statements repeat what’s expected, “But throwing toys can hurt somebody, mommy won’t let you hurt someone”. Or “that toy belonged to another child, let’s use the one we have” or” let us take turns and use the same toy/ wait your turn”
4. Hug it out
5. Sometimes the tantrum gets out of hand and the child is only getting more and more disturbed. In such a situation it is best to calmly remove him from the situation and take to another quieter place.
Some alternatives to saying the word No to a child. These will stop a child from escalating to a tantrum and help you convey your message in a language he will likely understand better.
Here I remember a LR Knost quote that says, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it is our job to share our calm, not join in their chaos.”
These simple strategies have helped us deal with the two’s. I am sure these strategies will need to be tweaked as our son grows older. But the basic idea is to focus on the principles of positive discipline.
What strategies work for you when your toddler won’t listen? How do you gain cooperation from your toddler?