With a busy daily schedule, an important question often is: how do we get our toddlers to listen without threats?
We have all been there where we are in a hurry, tired or desperate and just don’t have the energy to keep asking politely; we need our kids to do things and get a move on and they don’t want to. So we grab what is always at hand: ‘threats’. But when we use threats and try to control, the fact is that we have lost all control! You know what I mean.
We have opted to use fear over respect. A threat is not respectful but a misuse of our adult power. It might work in the short term. Our anger, yelling and aggression get them out the door, or get them to obey right now. But threats are a sign that we have lost all control and only work out of fear.
Also read the article Gentle parenting – 8 steps to parenting without yelling
How to get the toddler to respect us
We can’t demand respect, only earn it. And threats only make our kids scared of us and uneasy because our behavior becomes unpredictable, impulsive and aggressive. While it might work in the short term, there is a good chance that it fractures the relationship with the child in the longer run. It can even make the child aggressive or withdrawn and submissive if they are used to being ‘crushed’. We do it to gain respect but that is exactly what we lose.
Whats wrong with threats?
What is a threat? When we use anger or force to try to remove something from a child, either an object or their enjoyment of something. We don’t use our own boundaries or principles because we think that the child has more respect for their toy or the playdate, than us.
It often ends up being a punishment that has no logical connection to what we are asking of the child. Hence it has no meaning for the child. It could sound like ‘you will get no dessert if you keep jumping on the sofa’. Or ‘you will go to bed early if you don’t get in the car now’. When our request becomes a threat and a punishment, the child gets confused (because they don’t see the connection), angry (they feel unfairly treated) or sad (we are in danger of shaming and blaming the child)!
6 tools to help you help your toddlers to listen without threats:
- Be predictable – set agreeable boundaries:
- We need to work on their respect for us. That´s by letting them know in advance what the boundaries are, and what will happen if they choose to cross them.
- In ‘peace times’ sit down and talk about your expectations of your child. For example in the morning: ‘we need to be out the door at 8.10 in order to get to school on time. So let’s agree a routine so we can get out in a calm way’. You can do the same with bedtime, homework, screen time, mealtimes etc. Make sure your child understands what you have agreed to by writing it down or drawing it out.
- For new situations (i.e. parties, shopping, playdates etc.) you can also sit down with the child beforehand, and explain what will happen. Make sure they understand what your expectations are. Ask the child to repeat what you have just explained.
- Set agreed rules and routines. Where you feel that you need threats too often, try to agree to a set of routines (mornings getting out the door, homework etc.), and make sure the child is part of setting the routines. Or try to agree to a rule i.e. around hitting, dinner manners, sibling dynamics etc. Make the rules DO rules (not STOP or DON’T). Instead of ‘no hitting’ you can say, ‘kind hands and happy feet’ or, ‘hands to ourselves’.
- Control yourself: It can be really irritating when we feel that they will only listen to us when we take to yelling and threats. We might resent our kids because they ‘made’ us so angry. Before you do or say anything stop and breathe. Check in with yourself and get your emotions under control. ‘I am getting really angry but I don’t want this feeling to hijack how I deal with the situation’.
- Be curious not furious with your child: try to stop and think, why they didn’t do what you asked of them. Have they not heard or understood your request? Are they so deep in play that it is almost too much to ask them to stop (give them advance warnings and help them slowly to stop play)? Are they tired or hungry? Is your request too hard, considering their age? Does your child need help with your request? What might seem so simple to us might not be for our child. We can ask, ‘Do you need my help with…?’ or, ‘What can I do to help you…?’
- Help the child follow through with your request: prepare him for what will happen and when. Give reminders: ‘Sam in 10 minuttes it is time to get off the screen.´ Try not just to ‘throw’ the ‘order’ to your child and expect him to follow through while you are doing something else. Stay physically and mentally connected to the child and the situation. This shows that you are serious but also that you are there if they need help.
- Hear your child: Maybe your child needs to be heard. I know you might think, ‘I don’t have time for that’ when you are in a rush, but believe me you will gain time in the long run and will build a foundation of respect, not fear, in the longer term. If your child objects to following through come from a place of, ‘I can hear you are upset because xx. And I understand that you are upset because xx. Now please turn off the screen and go and put on your shoes.’ Stop there…or just repeat!
- Praise when they do listen: focus in what you want to see more off. So every time you child show an attempt to listen. step in and acknowledge that you have noticed it and like it. You don’t have to say “thank you”. You can say ‘Sam I noticed that you are trying hard to listen to me, and I really like that’. What you focus the most on you will cultivate and grow!
Get your toddlers to listen without threats
Remember that parenting is not a power struggle about winning or losing. It’s about teaching our kids to grow up to become respectful, independent and content in life.