Use the following simple strategies to help your toddler listen better:
Read to her
Reading aloud to your toddler is a great way to improve her listening skills. Use silly voices, or emphasize certain words or phrases to get her attention. Try to get fresh reading material as often as you can. If your toddler hasn’t heard the story before, she will have to listen to find out what happens! You can also buy books that are specially written to teach children to listen.
Get down to her level
Bellowing from a great height, or even another room, rarely has the desired effect. Instead, squat down or pick up your child so that you can look her in the eye and grab her attention. She’ll be more inclined to listen if you sit down next to her before reminding her to eat up her porridge.
Similarly, perch on her bed at night when telling her you’re about to turn off the light.
It can be hard to find time for your whole family to sit down and talk to each other. Mealtimes are a perfect time to do this. It may not be possible to do this every night, but try to set one day a week, such as Sunday evening, for everyone to sit down and share a meal. If you don’t have a table, see if you can buy a fold-away version. This will give your toddler a chance to see her parents interacting and listening, and it will also give her an opportunity to chat and listen, too.
State your message clearly, simply and authoritatively. Your toddler will zone out if you bang on about something. Try not to say, “It’s cold outside and you’ve been poorly lately, so I want you to put on your jacket before we go to the store.” Instead try, “It’s time to put on your jacket.” She will understand what you’re saying more easily and be more inclined to listen.
And try not to phrase something as a question if your toddler doesn’t actually have a choice. “Let’s get into your car seat,” has much more impact than, “Do you want to climb into your car seat now, sweetie?”
Follow through fast
Make it clear that you mean what you say and don’t make threats, or promises, you won’t keep. If you tell your two-year-old, “You can have water with your dinner,” don’t waver five minutes later and give her juice. Making sure your partner shares your rules and that you both stick to them will help your toddler feel more secure.
Make your follow-through speedy, too. You wouldn’t shout “Don’t run across the road!” five times, so try not to repeat less urgent instructions. If you want your toddler to put her cup on the table, say, “Put your cup on the table.” If she doesn’t, guide her hand to place the cup on the table. That way, she knows what you want her to do.
Reinforce your message
It helps to back up what you say with other cues, especially if you’re trying to pull your child away from an absorbing activity. Say, “Time for bed!” and then give a visual cue (flicking the light switch on and off), a physical cue (laying your hand on her shoulder), or a demonstration (steering her towards her bed).
Give your toddler advance notice when a big change is about to happen, especially if she’s happily involved with toys or a friend. There’s no point in giving your toddler a five-minute warning, as she’s too young to understand the concept of time. Instead, when you’re getting ready to leave the house say, “When you have finished dressing your doll, put your coat on.”
Give realistic instructions
If you tell your two-year-old to put her toys away, she may look around the room and think, “No way!” Instead, give her specific and manageable tasks, such as “Let’s put the yellow blocks away.” Once she’s accomplished the first task, you can make it into a game by saying, “Good. Now let’s put the blue blocks away.”
Yelling orders may get results, but some children will get upset and no one will enjoy the process. Your toddler will respond better to confident good humour. For example, occasionally use a silly voice or a song to deliver your message. You could sing, “Now it’s time to brush your teeth” to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down, for example.
Stress the benefits of getting the job done quickly. Say, “Brush your teeth and then we’ll read your favourite book”, instead of “Brush your teeth or you’ll get fillings”, or “Brush your teeth NOW!” Praise her when she finishes brushing and before you do a quick checking brush, with “Good listening!”
The good humor, affection and trust you show your toddler will make her want to listen to you. She’ll know that you love her and think she’s special. This is important when you need to be firm, too. Straightforward, authoritative instructions are more powerful when they’re accompanied by a hug or a smile. Then your toddler learns that paying attention is worthwhile.
Set a good example
Your toddler will be a better listener if she sees that you are a good listener, too. Try to listen to her as respectfully as you would to any adult. Look at her when she talks to you, respond politely and let her finish without interrupting. It may be difficult when you’re cooking dinner and she’s especially chatty, but try not to turn your back on her while she’s talking.
As with so many behaviors, the old saying “Do as I say, not as I do”, has no value when teaching your toddler to listen. It’s what you do that counts.