Tired of having a toddler who just won’t listen? MH has some tips to help you get your little ones’ attention.
WORDS NURULHUDA SUHAIMI
Most parents are probably no stranger to their toddlers’ “terrible twos” stage. During this developmental period, toddlers are starting to develop their own sense of self and are excited to explore their independence. This is why parents are faced with a young one who does not want to do as they're told or is unable to remain attentive for long periods of time.
If you need ideas on how to get your toddler to listen and pay attention, we have some tips and tricks to help you out.
Maintain Closeness and Eye Contact
Ever notice how hard it is to get your child to listen to you when you are giving instructions from across the room? You might find you have to repeat yourself a few times before your child will do as he is told. According to clinical psychologist at Think Psychological Services, Vyda S. Chai, parents need to give attention to their child first if they expect their child to pay attention to them. “Make sure you’re within close proximity while giving clear and concise instructions – chunked into small parts – to your child,” advises Chai, “Make sure you’re at the same eye level as your child and not talking down to them.”
The next time you need your child to keep his toys or get ready for bed, go to his side, sit down or squat in front of him, and speak to him directly and clearly so he understands what you need him to do.
Keep It Short
Toddlers are usually unable to maintain their attention when you are talking for too long or are using long sentences. Keep your instructions short and clear, and give one instruction at a time. For instance, don’t say, “It’s getting late now and it’s almost time for bed, so I want you to brush your teeth and change into your pyjamas before going to sleep.” For toddlers, this sentence is too long for them to process and they will most likely zone out before you even finish. Instead, be direct and say, “It’s time for you to brush your teeth.” After that, say, “Now, it’s time for you to get into your pyjamas.”
Recognise Your Child’s Internal Distractions
Even as an adult, I find it harder to pay attention when my stomach is growling or when I’m feeling tired. It is the same with toddlers too. Sometimes your little one might not be listening to you because of these internal distractions. “Parents should be aware if something is getting in the way of a child paying attention. Is he hungry or tired? If the child is feeling lethargic and tired, it will be difficult for them to pay attention,” says Chai.
Your child will also be able to deal with his internal distractions better when you recognise and acknowledge them. He will learn to let you know what he is feeling rather than just ignoring your instructions when you give them.
When asking your child to do something, provide him with some flexibility within your instructions for him. When you need him to eat breakfast, don’t say, “You have to eat your cereal now.” Instead, give him two options of breakfast foods to eat by saying, “Do you want to eat cereal or a sandwich for breakfast?”
When you provide your child with options, he will feel like he has some control over his tasks, rather than think he is being forced to do something.
Toddlers can be pretty silly and they love it when their parents get silly with them too. If telling your child to do something is not working, try singing it instead. Make up your own melodies or simply sing them to the tune of well-known songs like “London Bridge” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. This way, your instructions turn from boring tasks to something fun to do.
Use Puppets or Soft Toys
There are times when your toddler is not paying attention to you simply because he does not want to listen to an older authority figure. This is perfectly normal but it can make it especially difficult to get your child to listen when he is being stubborn.
To overcome this, why not give your instructions through puppets instead? The puppets do not have to be fancy, just decorating a plain sock will do the trick too. Or you can use your child’s favourite soft toy instead. Play along with your child and use a goofy voice when you need him to do something. Your child will see these puppets and soft toys as his friends, which means he will be more likely to listen when the instructions are coming from them rather than his parents.
Turn-taking while engaging in an activity can encourage your child to remain attentive and instil patience in him. Plus, it helps your child to break down his focus in the activity into smaller parts, which might be more helpful in gaining his full attention. For example, when your child is reading his book, read it together with him and take turns reading each page between the both of you. When it is your child’s turn, you can also ask him questions about the passage he read or get him to describe the drawings in the book. Do the same when it is your turn.
Set a Timer
Setting a challenge for your child can be an effective way to keep his attention focused on the task at hand. The next time you need your child to complete a task, set a time limit he has to adhere to. For instance, you can say “Let’s see if you can keep your toys in the box in ten seconds!” and then count to ten so your child knows how much time he has left to finish his task.
Setting a time limit for your child also lets him know that his task will eventually come to an end, after which he can move on to something else.
Play “Simon Says”
“Simon Says” is a great game to hone your toddler’s listening and attention skills. Play this game with the whole family so your child can familiarise himself with the aim of the game. Once your child knows the game well, try using the same tactic when you need him to do something. For instance, when you need your child to put his shoes on, say, “Simon says put your right foot out” and then slip his shoe on.
You can alternate the “Simon Says” instructions between the both of you so your child still associates the game with fun and play and not just a way for you to get him to do something.
The tips above will be more effective if you praise your child for following your instructions well. “How much attention your child gives you really depends if they are enjoying the interaction. Most toddlers are still learning social rules and for some, that may require some positive reinforcement and encouragement to motivate their interest. Once interest has been established, intrinsic motivation to attend should follow,” says Chai.
The next time your child successfully listens to you, remember to compliment him afterwards. This ensures he knows he did a good job and that you appreciate him listening to you. This will encourage him to continue with the same attitude, which will, of course, help you greatly in the future.