Raising and teaching a child is essentially an 18-year endurance race. You push through the curves, fight the uphill slopes and leap the hurdles, but no matter how hard you run, your little tyke is always right on your heels. And the moment you slow down, that kid is going to run you over and leave you in the dust. One of the first and most important lessons your toddler will learn is listening. She'll need it to follow orders, pay attention to directions and discern what's dangerous from what isn't (without finding out the hard way). Getting your toddler to stop, slow down and listen to you, however, can be an exercise in futility, and as a little runner she's going to push you against the wall a few times. This is not merely a battle of wills, however. Remember - this is her first time in the race, and at this stage it is your job to teach her everything she needs to be a productive adult. This includes getting her to slow down, listen and comprehend information. It takes a lot of effort for a single-minded child to stop the constant buzz of activity in her brain and focus on what someone else is telling her. But with the right tools and the right approach, you can teach your child how to listen without having to lace up your running shoes.
- Meet them eye-to-eye - Hollering an order at your child from your seat on the sofa may keep you from missing the football game, but it's not going to do her any good. "Bellowing from a great height ... rarely has the desired effect," says Mary VanClay, an author for BabyCenter.com. To get her to listen you have to slow her down, and the best way to do that is to get down on her level. Kneel down, look her in the eyes and make sure she looks back. If kneeling doesn't slow her down enough, pick her up so she has nowhere to go. Meet her eye-to-eye to show her that you have something to say and that she needs to listen.
- Be calm, be assertive and be simple - Yelling isn't going to get you anywhere, especially if your child is used to hearing you scream. Tell your child what you want in a calm and clear voice, but be assertive. This is not a request - it's a command. "Janie, get down right now," is much more effective than "Janie, honey, I would really appreciate it if you would get down." Also, make your commands simple and easy to understand. Your toddler's attention span is about as long as your wife's best football throw, and if you spend too much time getting to the point your kid will lose interest. If you can say what you need to say in five words, do it. "Janie, eat your Hamburger Helper." "Janie, stop hitting the dog." "Janie, give Daddy the remote."
- Be consistent with consequences - One of the most important things a parent can teach his child is that actions produce consequences. If your toddler is disregarding your instructions, make it clear there will be a punishment ... and follow through. Don't make unrealistic promises you're not going to keep. If you threaten to give her a time-out if she doesn't stop throwing her toys, give her the time-out immediately - don't flip-flop on the issue and then let her do whatever she wants. This will only help to confuse her and make you more likely to blow up randomly when she goes too far. Teach her that certain consequences always follow certain actions, without fail.
- Question your assumptions - It may be tempting to simply assume that your child knows what you're talking about. When you tell your child, "Janie, stay out of the street," you're assuming that she knows what a street is (as Alora Cheek discovered and explained on her Web site.) As your child's vocabulary grows more and more, you may find yourself assuming your child is smarter than she really is. If you're having trouble getting through to her, think about the command you're giving and ask yourself whether you're talking over her head. It may not be that she isn't listening; she may not understand what you're telling her.
- Be a team - Your toddler will never learn right from wrong if she's getting conflicting opinions from her two parents. Make sure that you and your wife are on the same page. Talk to her about possible consequences for bad behavior to ensure that you're both prepared to follow through. To be a good team you must present a unified front. Your toddler will fall in line a lot faster if she's getting the same response from both parents.