When I’m speaking to parents of toddlers and preschoolers one common question is, “How do I get them to listen when I say no?” It can be so frustrating trying to get the message through to these little darlings.
You say, “Don’t touch that” and the first thing they do is touch. Why? Their hearing is fine, they are smart, they like you and want to please you and yet, it seems that almost every time you say no it backfires.
The Last Word
At a local park, toddlers and pre-schoolers were frolicking in the wading pool. An excited child shrieked with delight as he raced to the edge of the pool. Coming up behind him, his harried Mom screamed, “No, don’t run.” And what did Junior do? Of course, he took off at warp speed.
He tripped and fell head first into the water. He came up sputtering and crying. “See, I told you not to run”, his Mom scolded. She dried him off and watched in disbelief as he headed off racing back into the water. She reacted by grabbing him and again saying “ Don’t you remember what just happened? How many times do I have to tell you, when we’re at the pool, don’t run.” But it never worked and by the end of the afternoon Mom was just exhausted from the round of saving him from further disaster and telling him what not to do.
Young children are not particularly good at listening to instructions. As a result, they tend to hear the last word we utter, which in this case was run, so he did.
Another Mom walked up hand-in-hand with an equally excited three-year-old. They walked up to the edge of the pool. She took his hand and bending down said, “Feel the floor beside the pool.” As he ran his hand along the wet, slippery concrete she said, “This is hard and slippery. If you run, you can fall and hurt yourself. So just make sure you walk and you’ll be okay” “But, she added, “If you want to run, just come onto the grass, it’s soft.”
And he did.
The second Mom never said “No!” She showed her youngster what to do and why. She also recognized his need to run and gave him a safe place to burn off his energy. As I watched the second child and his mother had a great afternoon at the park.
Kids learn more by watching than by listening. The second Mom showed her son what she needed from him and why. She also walked with him and was calm. Kids need to learn what to do, not what to avoid. Let them know what to do, and they’re likely to follow through.
When your kids are involved in fantasy play, watch them and you will be amazed and how carefully they pay attention. When they pretend to cook dinner or prepare to go out for the evening, they are a mirror image of your activities over the past few days.
Another strategy that works well with this age group is simple distraction. So when a toddler moves toward a breakable object, simply and calmly take his hand and re-direct his steps to something equally interesting. This isn’t usually too difficult as young kids are interested in anything new and particularly in things they are allowed to handle. If he continues toward the forbidden object, say “That’s not a toy, this is a toy. Here, play with this.” If he can be careful, you can let him touch the object that has caught his interest, then re-direct him.
Parents of toddlers and preschoolers complain that every second word out of their mouth is ‘No’. How, parents wonder, do children become so negative? Again, they learn by observation and experience and for lots of youngsters their experience is that every time they turn around someone is saying no. “No! don’t touch, no, don’t run, no, don’t cry and no, don’t yell”.
So we need to learn to be positive. “That’s not a toy, this is a toy, come and play with this.” ‘You can run over here.’ ‘That hurts, let me kiss it better.’ And in a whisper, ‘Let’s hear your quiet voice.’
It works well and takes some practice :
- Every time you are ready to say no, think yes.
- Instead of thinking about what you need your child to stop, think about what you want him to do.