Toddlers are terrible listeners. This is a fact. Part of it is because they aren’t developmentally ready to internalize things you’re telling them. That makes it necessary to repeat yourself a bajillion times. Which is also why you don’t see a lot of toddlers who are talk-therapists. And why you never feel better when you’re telling them about your anxiety over all those TPS reports at work.
That said, there are ways to get your toddler to focus a bit more on the words that are coming out of your face. Here are seven ways to change the way you talk so your toddler will actually listen.
Help your toddler understand that you are, in fact, a real and serious person by getting up close and personal. This means that you need to stop bellowing from another room. Because, frankly, if your request wasn’t important enough to get you to move your butt, they’re not going to give a crap.
It’s also important to get down to their level. Because the closer you get, the more they have to pay attention. It also shows what you’re asking is important enough to make an effort. Kinda the way an email from your boss is different than when they’re sitting beside your desk making you really nervous.
The problem with yelling at your kid is that it’s the worst crash course on human communication. It also becomes very normalized very quickly. That means that no matter how loud you yell, they will continue to not listen. This is a literal nightmare. Except in the nightmare you’re screaming for help but people just keep letting Bubble Guppies tear you up like piranhas.
The better way? Get super quiet. If you are close, and talking quietly, suddenly your request seems a bit more serious. This also works if they are in the process of a meltdown. Stay calm and keep quietly interjecting. Eventually, they’ll match you.
Keep It Positively Simple
Your toddler is just starting to figure out directions. So the more you talk, the less they’ll understand. More than that, they’re just starting to grasp negative concepts like no and don’t. You, on the other hand, can grasp high-level negative concepts. Like the poop emoji, or “tweetstorms.”
Keep your requests as simple and positive as possible. Instead of “you know you aren’t supposed to run in the kitchen,” go for, “Walk, please.”
Many activities are mandatory. Getting dressed to go outside, for instance, is not optional. You know because you tried it once and it didn’t end well.
That said, some of these mandatory activities can still be packed with choices: “Do you want the red or the green shirt? Do you want to put on your socks first or your pants?” These options will give your kid a sense of empowerment and collaboration.
Even for a toddler, commands are a pain in the ass. That’s particularly true when the command appears to be given for no damn good reason. Who the hell is Simon and who cares what he says?
On the other hand, if you give them information, you’re showing them trust that they can work things out. So instead of going on about the toys in the driveway, tell them you notice there are toys in the driveway. And then work together to figure out what happens when toys are in the driveway, particularly when you’re pulling in from work, feeling like a zombie.
Own Your Expectations And Follow Up
If you tell your kid they need to brush their teeth, you’ve given them an opening. Because the fact is, in their mind, they don’t need to do anything. So you’ll get the toddler version of an epic clapback: “No I don’t!” Daaaaaaaaaaamn!
But if you say that you need them to do something (“I need you to brush your teeth”) there is no ambiguity. You have the agency. But be careful if you get tempted to add an “or else” onto your “I need.” Be prepared to act out whatever that “or else” is, otherwise you’ll look weak. And weakness only makes a toddler stronger.
Be A Good Listener
A good way to get your kid to listen is to model good listening. That means when they’re laying it all out there, you are looking at them and attentive. You aren’t trying to tell them their thoughts or ideas are invalid and you’re helping them name their emotions.
Soon enough, with some incredible modeling, they might even be able to listen to you talk about your day. Who knows? You might even get them nodding along as you drone on and on about all the TPS report cover sheets.