“One of your child’s main goals in life is to discover his surroundings and develop his independence. Ignoring you is part of this process (as frustrating as this can be),” says Ashley Jay, educational psychologist in private practice and co-owner of the Norwood Therapy Centre in Johannesburg. “Pretending not to hear you is your child’s way of testing boundaries, to see how you will react to the situation,” adds clinical psychologist from Ubuntu Family Health Centre, Lwanele Khasu.
Ashley recommends these 6 strategies to handle your toddler when he pretends not to hear you:
Make sure your requests are specific and doable
A request like “Tidy up your room” is too vague for a toddler to grasp. Instead, say something more concrete, like “Please put your toys in this box”.
Simplify your requests
Your toddler might be ignoring you because he doesn’t understand your request. “At the age of two, children need instructions with one or two steps at the most. ‘Please go upstairs and find your shoes’, or ‘Please come here and sit down next to me’,” explains Ashley.
If you tell your toddler to get off the table and he ignores you, immediately lift him down yourself.
Motivate your child
Toddlers love to please, so compliments and praise will go a long way towards getting your child to comply with your wishes. For example, “I’m so proud of you for getting your jacket on so quickly”, or “You are a really good listener”. Ashley says you can also use an incentive to get your child to do what you ask. A star chart could work in this instance. “Give your child one sticker every time he responds on the first request.”
Use alternatives to “no”
Your toddler might be ignoring you because he hears “no” too often. Instead of saying, “No, you can’t have sweets now”, say “You can have a treat after lunch”. “When you give a child a choice, you’re giving him a chance to assert himself in an acceptable way,” says Ashley. “Say ‘yes’ whenever you can and take every opportunity to encourage rather than dissuade your child. When he wants to climb a little higher on the climbing frame say ‘Let’s try it together’, which is more positive than ‘No, you’re too little for that’.”
Try to be understanding
Imagine you’re chatting with a friend when, all of a sudden, you’re ordered to stop what you’re doing because something else has to be done right now. ”We don’t always have time to coax our kids into the car or beg them to wash their hands, but, whenever possible, it helps to give your child notice before you rush him into the next activity,” says Ashley.
“If you’re worried your child seems to ignore you more often than he listens, talk to his doctor about the problem. It’s unlikely there will be a serious problem, but your paediatrician may recommend a hearing test or other developmental assessments,” adds Ashley.