With the increasing autonomy and decision-making power comes the confusion for toddlers. There is no doubt your patience is tested to its utmost limits with misbehaving kids. The psychology behind why toddlers don’t listen is a riddle hard to solve in itself. But, it’s very important to understand it, to help kids understand the mysterious world around them and in turn gain control over our lives as parents.
Let’s start from the beginning;
Infants function on instincts or feelings. They are still learning everything, and mostly put everything in two categories “I liked this experience or I didn’t like this experience”. Infants don’t make decisions, they will cry to make their point till they feel good about their situation. The primary reason why first few months after having a baby can be particularly hard.
Toddlers, on the other hand, have formed a memory of what they already like and what do they want to do more of, it could be their favorite toy, watching TV, eating certain foods. They are learning to make decisions, learning the “I want to do….”. They also disagree with us a lot; sadly mostly on everyday activities (the reason for that follows).
Toddlers want to share with you what they like to do. Most likely you might already know what your child likes, but maybe you haven’t expressed that to them yet.
Acknowledgment is very important to toddlers. They want to make sure you know their newest discovery, you are their entire life. Learning something NEW is FUN, no matter how trivial it is for you, for them, it’s very exciting.
It could be a toy or something new in an older toy. Like, my son just figured he could open one of his car’s doors (which he’s had with him for past 3 months) and he wanted to make sure I knew about this new discovery.
They may be hitting the floor or the wall and like the sound it makes, or that may be their way to express their anger. You must acknowledge that the floor makes a sound when they hit it, or that you realize they are upset about something, and ask them; if they wanted to come and tell you what made them upset. It’s highly likely that they will stop doing it. You don’t have to be excited or happy about it, just acknowledgment makes the child feel “heard”.
This feeling of wanting to share everything with you comes from a happy place, and when we don’t acknowledge that, and rather say you just keep banging on the floor, or you’re such a stubborn child. They get even more frustrated.
Listening to toddlers is also particularly tough because their language is not yet fully developed. It’s hard for them to express and you have to always keep your eyes and mind peeled to look for hints of what do they mean by those babbling words. Basically, you have to watch what they are doing to “listen” to them. Like when my son is hungry, he starts yanking on the refrigerator’s handles, or he keeps saying “milk, milk, milk” he doesn’t always want milk, he’s actually hungry.
As I write this post, my two-year-old was insisting on going outside. It was a hot day so I wanted my to wait till it cools off a little. My son was trying very hard to convey his intentions, by saying “boo, boo”. Turns out one of his blue chalk was left outside from last evening’s play, which he saw on the porch through the side glass, and wanted to bring it back inside, but I couldn’t understand his words. After a few minutes of trying to convince him; I let my toddler go, he rescued his boo chalk and came back inside without me asking him to come back. You see it’s very important to trust your child.
We often interrupt kids in between their play to make them listen to us. Be it “do you want to go pee-pee”, “are you hungry”, or it’s time to… What they learn is if you want to get someone to hear what you want to say, you have to stop them from what they are doing.
Since kids are little, often times they can’t stop us from doing our daily chores. But when it’s time for their caregiving activity, like a diaper change, changing into a new set of clothes, taking a bath; an activity where they are involved, they feel they share the power with you (and honestly, they do). They feel that’s their opportunity to stop you and make you listen to them; hence the tug of war of not wanting to do what we want them to begins.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying don’t change the diaper and rather do what they want you to do. You are doing it for their good, I get that. But you see the child did not get an opportunity in the first place to share their joy or concern. And, at this time it’s even more difficult for them to convey that; since they are out of that particular thought, but have held on to the feeling of wanting to share something with you.
An easy solution to this is being aware of what they want to share before you have to do a caregiving activity with them. Sometimes when I have already missed the opportunity, I make a point interact with him about his toys, joy or concern; before changing the diaper or during or after. Caregiving activities are a great way to connect.
Disagreeing and testing the limits we have set for them is normal for toddlers. But disagreeing and throwing a fit all the time is not normal. If they get upset about everything you want them to do, especially caregiving activities, it means you are missing out on something they want to share.
The bottom line is, kids don’t listen to you or defy to gain attention and any action they do to gain attention only means we were not present when they needed us in the first place. Or perhaps we were physically present by mentally and emotionally we were engaged in something else.
Kids just need undivided attention, which has plenty of benefits to it. One of the highlights being; when you pay undivided attention to kids; you don’t have to attend to them for very long.
Where does your child not co-operate with you? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.