Tips to get your toddler's attention
Do you find yourself repeating the same instruction 10 times and it’s not even breakfast time yet? Here are some tips to get your toddler to pay attention to you (and perhaps even do what you ask).
At a glance
- Get down on their level so you can make eye contact
- Be precise, clear and to the point
- Read stories to help improve their concentration
Get down to their level
This is the famous Supernanny trick – and it works every time. Rather than yelling some random instructions at them from the kitchen, bend down to their level, make eye contact and say slowly and firmly what you would like them to do.
The fewer instruction words you use the better with toddlers. They’re too young to negotiate so a simple instruction is best. Say ‘Shoes on, please’ rather than ‘If you’re going to walk when we go out, you’ll need to wear your shoes, won’t you?’ Your message will get lost in all those words. Don’t present it as a choice if there isn’t one. ‘Do you want to get into the car now?’ won’t have as much effect as ‘It’s time to get into the car, please’.
Don’t repeat endlessly
If you’ve said, ‘don’t throw food, please’ and they’ve ignored you, perhaps say it again once in your best authoritative voice (think Supernanny or Tanya Byron in the TV series House of Tiny Tearaways). After that, use actions rather than words: gently close your hand over theirs and put it back on their highchair or table, and remove the food. Then distract them – fast!
This can work occasionally with a regular task that’s become a problem, such as brushing teeth, putting on shoes or going up to bed. You could sing the instruction to a nursery rhyme tune or use a silly voice to catch their attention. Keeping your message positive can help too, so rather than saying ‘if you don’t brush your teeth they’ll fall out’, say ‘when we’ve brushed your teeth I will read you a story’.
Reading books to your toddler and making up your own stories to tell them are fantastic ways to improve their listening skills. If they’re bored with the books you already have, borrow more from the library. If they have trouble concentrating, go for books with fewer pages.
Be a good listener yourself
We are our toddler’s best role model – they will do as we do rather than as we say (unfortunately). So it’s important to listen, look at them in the eye and show interest when they ‘chat’, even if it’s still babble at this stage, and let them finish without interrupting.
You can see more about your toddler's development with our milestones chart.