Do you ever feel like you’re at war with your toddler? Do you spend many of your waking hours wondering how on earth to get your 2-year-old to listen to you??? It’s time to become a toddler whisperer, my friend!
Many of you know that I’ve got 5 kids, ages 14-4. I’ll be honest when I say that the toddler years weren’t always a dreamy state of bliss – we had our fair share of meltdowns and tantrums. No toddler mom is perfect, and I’d never claim to be. But I have learned some SUPER helpful tactics along the way that helped the toddler war become an occasional skirmish here and there. Read through these 10 tips to learn how to become a toddler whisperer.
1. Get Low
The first step to becoming a toddler whisperer is to get down on your toddler’s level to talk to her as much as possible. Can you imagine how it would feel to always have to crane your neck to look at the person speaking to you? Personally, I think it would get old in a hurry.
The height difference certainly brings a feeling of superiority, and as toddlers are developing their own sense of identity, they don’t always want to be controlled by such an authoritarian figure. So, mama, just kneel or squat down and put your face level with your toddler’s eyes.
Establishing eye contact is SO important – for both you and your child. When you take the time to make eye contact, you are showing your child that he is valued and that you are trying to connect with him in a meaningful way.
2. Learn to Say YES
Toddlers are told NO all. day. long. “No, don’t put that in your mouth, “No, stay out of the road,” “No, don’t throw that rock,” “No running in the house,” … you get the idea. In all of those instances, saying NO is completely justified. We need to keep our kids safe and toddlers don’t think in terms of safety all that much. Saying NO is inevitable.
But you can increase how often you say YES. And it’s so EASY. Are you ready?
When your toddler comes to you and makes a bid for your attention, instead of saying “What?,” all you need to do is say, “Yes?” Just hearing the positive response of YES on a regular basis will help your toddler to feel more agreeable. And to be honest, it makes me feel more agreeable too.
3. Describe What is Acceptable
One way to say NO less is to tell your toddler what he CAN do. Oftentimes, only telling him what he can’t do isn’t that helpful, because he receives no directions about what IS acceptable.
Instead of only saying, “No we can’t get out the play dough right now,” add a simple example of what would be okay for him to do. For example, “No, we can’t get out the play dough right now, but you CAN get out your trains and build a track.”
This tactic creates acceptable options for your toddler to choose from, which is very empowering to him. The more you use this tactic of describing what IS acceptable, the quicker you will find yourself becoming a toddler whisperer.
4. Change IF to WHEN
This is another super easy verbal change you can make overnight. When you are facing a challenging moment and need to issue an ultimatum, change the typical IF to WHEN. For example, pretend your toddler wants to throw his wooden train across the room. Saying “IF you throw that train, I’m going to put it in time out,” is less effective than if you said, “WHEN you throw that train, I’m going to put it in time out.”
That doesn’t seem like a big difference, but hear me out. The word IF sounds like a challenge to your toddler. It’s as if we are saying “I dare you to throw that train – even though I don’t want you to.” On the other hand, the word WHEN is simply a concrete reminder of a consequence that follows an action. And that’s what we want them to understand in the first place right?
5. Try TOY Timeout
You may or not be a timeout mama. If you are, let me just share a few thoughts here. When we put our kids in timeout (which I have done on occasion), that communicates to them that THEY are not worthy to be with other people. This can lead to feelings of shame and abandonment as described in this article from Aha! Parenting.
My toddlers only go to time out when they are biting or hitting others and need to be physically removed from the situation. Other than that, if they are being whiny, disobedient, or unruly, I choose a toy to put in time out. I set it on top of the fridge where my child can see it (never threaten to throw it away – that is not going help at all). I explain that she can earn that toy back when she starts speaking kindly, obeying, cleaning up, or whatever.
6. Sing Instead of Yell
I know how frustrating it is to keep calling your kid to get his attention. And if a screen is involved, it’s five times as hard. Instead of repeatedly
speaking yelling his name, start singing it instead.
You can choose opera style or country, a ballad or rap, but whatever you pick, I guarantee it will be so out of the ordinary that he will instantly drop what he’s doing and see what is going on with you! (This works for teenagers too, by the way!)
7. Signal Transitions with Events
We’ve all heard how important it is to give our kiddos a heads up before they’re expected to transition from one event to another. Most of us do this in a completely ineffective way for toddlers though! How many times have you heard parents say “Five more minutes!” at the park? And then when five minutes pass, their kids still throw a fit?
Part of the reason is that toddlers have zero idea what five minutes feels like. They are terrible judges of time! So instead of giving a time-based warning, give them an event cue to look for.
For example, “Slide down three more times and then we are leaving the park” or “I can help you after I finishing making this sandwich,” or “I will read to you after I start the laundry.” A toddler can understand what any of these events looks like so much easier than he can understand how long 5 minutes is.
8. Yelling Doesn’t Help
Let’s just be honest: communicating with a toddler can be frustrating. Sometimes they simply don’t understand the instructions we are giving them.
But please remember this, mama: raising the VOLUME of your voice does not help your child to understand what you are saying. Instead, yelling can have long-lasting negative effects on the parent-child relationship and on the child’s willingness to trust as detailed in this article from Parents magazine.
If you feel your voice rising, take a deep breath. Count to ten. Step outside and get some fresh air for two minutes (this is the one I usually do!). For tips on how to avoid feeling that mommy burnout, read my post about it here.
Remember that to become a toddler whisperer, its’s very important to learn to keep the volume of our voices under control.
9. Create Accountability for Yourself
When your toddler is being really obstinate or throwing a huge fit, start recording the epic meltdown with your phone. No, this isn’t so you can share it on Instagram or Facebook!
I know that I am a much calmer parent when I’m around other adults. When I turn my phone camera on and start recording, its almost as if someone else is watching me. Automatically, I’m much less likely to lose it if I have the accountability of knowing my response is being recorded.
10. Understand Toddler Physicality
It’s just a fact that toddlers don’t have complete control of their bodies. (If yours does, tell me your secret, please!) There will be times that your toddler will be in the middle of winding up for a throw or launching himself off the coffee table and you’ll tell him, “You better not throw that ball / jump off that table” and he will still do it anyway. Frustrating, right?
Maybe not. While these moments may seem like defiance, they actually may just be your toddler’s inability to reign in his physical motions that are already in gear. When this happens, it is better to wait until after the action is complete and then give a directive, such as “Please don’t throw that ball inside again. Remember, we don’t throw in the house,” or “I know you just jumped off the table. That is not something we do.” And then remember to follow up with a positive directive! For example, “you CAN play with your cars though.” Giving the directions right in the middle of his action only sets him up for disobedience, intentional or not.
What Will You Do?
The beauty of these tips is that they are SIMPLE to implement – so often its just a turn of a phrase! Choose one or two and start practicing them today. Before you know it, you will be a true toddler whisperer. Let me know how it goes in the comments below! And if you have anything to add to these ideas, please let me know!