How To Get A Toddler To Cooperate
The toddler years can be filled with a whole lot of parental frustration, but it doesn’t have to. Check out these tips to get your toddler to cooperate and listen more.
Start small, with clear simple instructions
It is important to only give one instruction at a time and to stay close to your toddler to ensure compliance in the beginning.
When your toddler is beginning to learn compliance, avoid giving directions when you are on the move, distracted or in a hurry. Instead, make sure you are giving instructions when your child is an arm’s length away or less. Once your toddler grows and learns, you can work your way up to 3 instructions at once, but remember, they must remain simple.
If you toddler struggles with more instructions, do not be afraid to drop back to only one instruction at a time and work up their stamina over time. You can also increase your distance from them, but if they regress to not doing a requested behavior then you need to go back to being close.
Toddlers are not made for multitasking so make sure distractions are limited when you are giving your instructions. This means your child’s head is not buried in a screen or they are not immersed in their play when you are talking.
A toddler’s play is their work and just as you need to get to a good stopping point so you can switch tasks, so does your toddler. If you need to gain your toddler’s attention, make sure to give them a warning about the need for their attention and get down on their level. Visual timers, like from Time Timer*, can be a great way to help toddlers transition to listening or to a different activity.
Make demands mean something
If you want your toddler to do something, make sure you actually want them to do it. Otherwise, if you request they do something to later back off and do it yourself, you are sending them mixed signals.
For toddlers, consistency is the key. They need to learn that every time you make a request you expect them to complete the task, not sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. So once you have made the decision that you want your toddler to do something, then insist they do what you are requesting.
This requires you to show them exactly how to do it until they have learned the expected behavior. If they refuse, make sure to break down the task into smaller tasks that are easier to complete. So instead of ‘put your toys in the box’ you might first say ‘find the box’.
Extra tips for transitions
Calmly tell your child to take their time with the task, that the next fun thing on the agenda (like reading a book with you) can wait until they are done.
If a child is playing it can be helpful to play with them for a minute or two before transitioning them to the new activity you are requiring.
Make sure to preview what the next activity and expectations will be before making the demand.
Be clear about what you want
Toddlers feel more secure when they are told exactly what to do. So instead of telling your child to get ready to go, try telling them ‘go put on your shoes, then put on your coat’.
Keep the instructions as a requirement, not a ‘would you like to…’ or ‘how about you…’ as those words make it seem like the toddler has a choice in the matter. If there is no choice to what you want your toddler to do, using choice wording will invite conflict and refusal if your toddler does not want to do it.
Offer limited choices
Sometimes offering your toddler a choice can help with non-compliance. For example, you can brush your teeth first or you can use the potty first. Make sure you are offering choices you can live with and limit the choices you offer to two.
Understand your toddler’s resistance
Sometimes we don’t like what we have to do. Toddlers are no different. If your toddler starts to have a meltdown reflect back your child’s feelings. Repeat they do not want to stop playing, wear their coat, leave, etc. Restate back to them that they are mad, sad, frustrated, disappointed, etc. Acknowledging their feelings by reflecting them back, will help your toddler transition through their meltdown faster.
Once they have calmed down offer them a hug, but remain insistent in the task being completed. That may mean you need to help them start the task or break it down into smaller tasks. It can also help to reaffirm your family’s values when enforcing the required task by stating “This is what we do in our family”.
Help your toddler learn
Toddlers learn best through mirroring and modeling so in the beginning, do the tasks along side your child so they learn how you expect the task to be done. Over time you will be able to remove yourself from participating once your toddler has learned what is expected.
*Happy Parenting & Families does not receive any compensation for recommending this product.