You’re wake up on a Wednesday morning and wrap your hands around a hot cup of coffee. You think this is the day your toddler listens. You look out the window. The sky is powder puff blue and the clouds appear as delicious marshmallows. And the sun looks like a Sunkist orange as it’s rays reflect on your windows creating a beautiful rainbow.
Somebody cue the zen spa music!
It’s lovely, right?
You know today is going to be an amazing day. You decide to do something special and take your kids to the park for a picnic.
You take great care and detail crafting each child’s individual picnic lunch. You even pack some brownies as a special treat for everyone.
You walk out the door only to find yourself exhausted by the time you reach the car. Your toddler’s crying because you put the wrong pair of shoes on. The baby is crying because…well…she’s a baby. And your oldest, a school-aged child, is upset because you’re going on a picnic and picnics are the worst.
Once you get to the picnic, your toddler immediately runs away.
Of course he does.
“Stooppp! Come back here right now!”
Before running after your toddler, you hand your school-aged child a sandwich and ask him to help soothe the baby. But instead of soothing the baby, he goes into a tireless rant about how you made the wrong kind of sandwich.
“It’s turkey and cheese. You just ate turkey and cheese yesterday.”
“Mom, I hate turkey and cheese. Turkey is gross.”
You don’t have time to argue over sandwiches. You’ve got a toddler to capture. After running in circles for 5 minutes trying to wrangle your toddler, finally, everyone is sitting and enjoying the picnic.
Your toddler starts mashing his sandwich against his brother’s cheek. Your school-aged child keeps whining, “He’s hitting me with his sandwich.”
You’ve. Had. Enough.
“Stop whinning. Stop hitting. Stop complaining. Everyone stop. Listen to me. I said stop!”
Nobody listens and the chaos continues. This story is eerily similar to my own life. Believe me when I say toddler listening struggles are very familiar to me. #ConfessionNumberOne
3 Ways to Improve Toddler Listening.
There are several parenting phrases that offer little help with a toddler’s listening skills. They make us think and feel like our kids are going to listen, but when you pay close attention to the results, you notice there isn’t much listening going on.
So here are 3 phrases I decided to quit altogether (mostly) and the results were amazing enough to make me stick with it for the long haul.
Useless parenting phrase #1 – Stop crying.
The word stop immediately instigates a power struggle. Your child puts up his or her guard, ready to fight.
If I tell my toddler to stop crying, this often intensifies the crying and never gets to the root of the emotion. He thinks I don’t understand and this makes him even madder.
What to say instead of “Stop crying.”
One idea that works particularly well in our home is to validate the emotion and briefly help our child process his big feelings.
“What’s upsetting you right now?”
“Let’s take a deep breath”
“You are mad because…”
Useless parenting phrase #2 – Listen.
When I say the word listen to my toddler, all bets are off. I can forget about any listening.
That’s because listening is a very abstract concept to toddlers, who see the world as black and white. The phrase “listen to mommy” makes us think and feel like we are doing something, but it rarely yields results.
Teaching the concept of listening is great when you have 30 minutes of time to practice a listening game and get the concept down pat.
But if you are looking to get a toddler in less than 30 minutes (Raises hand), I say skip the listening prompt and focus on short and simple the directions.
What to say instead of “Listen”.
If you skip the listening prompt and make eye contact instead, you know they are a paying attention to your words. Then focus on short and simple directions you want your child to follow. Because toddlers have such a short attention span, the simpler the instructions, the better.
- Instead of “Listen to mommy. Stop hitting.”
- Simply say, “Show me kind and gentle. Show me gentle touches.”
- Instead of “Listen to me. Stop running around the house naked.”
- Simply say, “Let’s put your pajamas on. Show me how you put your pajamas on”
If your instructions include repetition, that’s amazing. Toddlers rarely hear the first instruction you give. So if the second instruction is a mirror or follow up to the first instruction, it’s a win.
Useless parenting phrase #3 – Don’t.
If your child hears the word don’t, the invisible earmuffs immediately appear. All your child hears is “don’t” and the rest sounds like “wah wha wah blah blah.” Your instructions never reach your child’s brain because it already shut off.
Focus instead on what you want your child to do.
- Instead of “Don’t climb on the table.”
- Try “Sit nicely in your chair.”
- Instead of “Stop hitting.”
- Try “Hold mommy’s (or daddy’s) hand.”
So what if you use these phrases?
Of course there is nothing wrong with using these phrases. Your kids won’t be scarred for life. Life will carry onward. There isn’t a day where I don’t end up using one of these phrases out of habit. Sometimes I don’t have the brain space to get creative enough with re-framing things in a way a toddler will best understand.
Oh, and the toddler running away and throwing a sandwich in someone’s face? Yep. That would be my kid.
The goal is really to minimize these phrases–don’t, stop, listen–in order to encourage your toddler to both hear and follow the instructions you are giving.
I can’t waste patience and precious energy on phrases that don’t work particularly well. I’m saving it for bigger things down the road like teaching morals and saying ‘no’ to drugs and showing my kids how to brew my coffee in the mornings. You know, the important stuff.
Print this free toddler listening checklist.
This post comes with a free printable checklist to help with toddler listening. I always have the hardest time remembering these phrases. This printable simplifies it!
Here is a sneak preview…
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the checklist. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Place it on your refrigerator. Check things off as you go and don’t forget a thing!