Sometimes I’m in the middle of cooking dinner and my son will go into the fridge looking for a snack. I tell him that he needs to wait. Teaching kids to listen is hard. I continue stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove, boiling water for the pasta, and simultaneously bouncing a baby on my right hip, whilst wondering how to make kids listen.
The baby is crying.
She’s crying because she’s a baby and she wants me to make oogly-googly faces at her and talk two decibels above my normal voice. She’s crying because—apparently—she doesn’t want to watch me to cook spaghetti.
My son is crying now too.
This is my house every day at 5 o’clock.
Both kids are crying. I’m cooking as fast as my hands can stir. I’m bouncing and making oogly-googly faces. In between googly faces, I’m telling my son that “no, he cannot have a snack.” He asks at least eight times. I tell him “no” eight times. My pony tail is crooked. And no one is listening.
Teaching Kids to Listen.
Kids are born ready to listen. They are also born ready to sleep and eat food that is offered to them. Their brains are primed from birth to understand concepts key to survival in the world: listening, following directions, sleeping, eating and beyond.
But somehow—along the way—you feel like your kids aren’t listening as much as their beautiful growing brain is capable of.
Well, there are several reasons this might be happening. This list is not all encompassing–I have a laundry list of parenting mistakes–but here are 5 listening mistakes I was making when teaching my kid to listen:
You expect more than what’s developmentally available.
Did you know that the logical part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) does not fully develop until around age 25? This means, for the most part, the limbic system (the emotional brain) is driving your child’s decisions. Logic is on the back burner.
Keep expectations realistic when teaching kids to listen…
- 1-year-old: complies with instructions 40-50% of the time
- 2-year-old: complies with instructions 60% of the time
- 3-year-old: complies with instructions 70% of the time
- 4-year-old+: complies with instructions 80% or more of the time
You respond to chaos with chaos.
When your child’s emotional brain is in overdrive, it’s easy to feel frustrated and angry. When I’m bouncing a crying baby and cooking dinner, the last thing I want to do is patiently tell my son eight times to stop going in the fridge. I want to respond to his chaos with my own chaos.
Responding with chaos doesn’t really cultivate a good listener in the long run. It might scare him for a night or two. But as the evenings wear on, it will require more and more amplified yelling and screaming to get him to stop.
You see tantrums as a bad thing.
Tantrums are merely a function of a healthy, growing and developing child’s brain. Through tantrums, children are learning self-regulation of emotion. Through tantrums, children learn boundaries. And over time, tantrums become less frequent.
You give instructions before you have their full attention.
Many times we think kids are listening, but they are busy with their attention focused on something else. In order to teach kids to listen, grab their full attention first using two steps:
- Eye contact.
- Eye level (squat or sit).
Your instructions are too long.
Often times, I found myself rambling rather than conveying the message I really wanted to send.
“How many times have I told you? No snacks before dinner. Stop asking. What did I just say?”
These types phrases make us think and feel like we are encouraging listening, but they rarely yield results. Free yourself from the extra words. Just say the direction you want your child to follow in the shortest way possible.
Instead of saying, “What did I just say? No, you can’t have a snack.”
Try, “Sit nicely. Wait for dinner.”
Your connection needs some nurturing.
A power struggle or tantrum is not always about the obvious. Our battle before dinner is not always about the snack. Sometimes teaching kids to listen is about something deeper.
My son wants my undivided attention, love and affection. He wants me to be silly and laugh and make googly faces with him too. At the end of the day, when we are all tired and hangry, the connection is missing. Kids have a habit of acting out when they yearn for our love and attention. They feel the disconnect. They want to mend it, but they don’t know how to begin.
It was time for a REAL solution.
For a few weeks, I thought I was ready to commit myself to an institution. Teaching kids to listen during dinner and throughout the day was so important to me. I decided to learn from my mistakes and move forward.
First I ditched the crooked pony tail, because let’s be honest, that was not helping me any.
Second, instead of pushing back, I drew him into me. I realigned my expectations. I put the baby in a carrier and plopped him right on the counter, where he helps me cook most nights. I make eye-contact and ask him to “Wait nicely or help mom cook.”
He usually decides to help.
I cut the vegetables and he helps put them in the pot and stirs them around. When he’s really hungry and asks for a snack, he munches on a few raw vegetables while we cook and take turns making googly faces at the baby. It’s a compromise we can both live with.
We are connecting. I’m not yelling. Nobody is crying (…usually).
Sometimes my pony tail is still crooked. But I’m okay with that.
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 20,000+ parents who receive my weekly parenting tips and ideas!
- 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!
Looking to further simplify life with your toddler?
I’ve written a book with my friend Rachel that has ideas for rhythms, routines and schedules that’ll help your children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. There are over 30 printables (all different routines you can print out) including tips for running your day and figuring out a routine with multiple children!
Want more on parenting?
- What No One Tells You About Parenting Toddler Boys
- One Thing You Can Give Your Child to Get Better Behavior
- The Real Reason Kids Never Want to Go to Sleep
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