You cannot just expect your child to know what you mean when you give a specific instruction. Kids must first be taught before they can understand.
Children are not born knowing which behaviors are okay and which are not okay. They need to be taught what it means to obey.
I know I have discussed this idea many times throughout the blog in various posts, but it is such an important principle I thought I would bring it out in its own post.
We Need to Actually Teach What Obedience Would Look Like
We need to teach our children what obedience looks like, as mentioned in On Becoming Toddlerwise (page 93).
Our children are so adept at learning language that I think we often assume they know exactly what we mean when we give them an instruction of what to do or what not to do. We tell them to do something or not do something without realizing they do not know what that something actually is.
For example, consider the habit if whining. Your toddler starts to whine for a snack. Your response might be to turn to your toddler and instruct her “Don’t whine. Whining will not get you what you want.”
Children Are Scientists
For a toddler who has never been told exactly what it means to whine, all she knows is that this “whining” is something that irritates mom. She will then need to do some experimenting to figure out exactly what whining is. Is whining the way I walk? Is it how I am holding my hands? Is it the words I am saying? Perhaps it is my distance from mom? Etc.
As your toddler tries out the different possibilities, the actual whining is sure to continue, and your patience will thin.
The scenario would be very different if you took the time to teach what whining was and what she should do instead of whine.
It Takes Time to Learn What Words Mean
Think back to new situations you have been in. Perhaps your first day of college or your first day on a job. There are always new rules and social customs to learn. There is the local jargon to come to know. As an adult, you have a lot of life experience to draw from to help you figure these things out rather quickly, but it still takes some time.
When you think of it that way, you can see how a two year old might need some guidance in knowing what it means to whine.
How To Teach What Obedience Looks Like
When you are giving your child instruction, approach it from the many different senses. All people have different ways they learn best. Some through verbal instruction. Others through watching the process be done. Others by actually practicing it. There are many ways to learn.
Also, remember that training in times of non-conflict is the best time to teach something. If your child has a habit of whining, you will have the most luck in teaching what whining is and what to do instead of whining if you talk about it at a time your little one is not whining, but is happy. Read more about Training in Times of Non-Conflict here.
Let’s go back to whining. Your child comes to you and whines for a snack, “Mooommmmmyyyyyyy, I want some pretzelllllllls!” You look at her and say, “Kaitlyn, don’t whine” (yes, this is a real-life experience for me back in Kaitlyn’s toddler days) ). You then might demonstrate what it is to whine. “Do you know what whining is? No? Whining is when you make your voice go like this” (at that point you are demonstrating whining).
Now your child has an idea of what it means to whine. Don’t stop there! Give her direction. Tell her what to do instead. “You ask nicely for pretzels. Say, ‘Mommy, may I please have some pretzels.’ ” And you demonstrate how to ask nicely. Have her repeat it (to the best of her ability) and then respond with a big smile, “Yes, you may have some pretzels. Thank you for asking so nicely.”
Read: 5 Rules for Giving Kids Instructions
Let’s review. When instructing your child:
- Explain the vocabulary words you are introducing. Whether it is to not run, to not yell, etc., explain what it is you are telling your child.
- Demonstrate what you don’t want done.
- Give your child an acceptable action. Don’t just tell your child what not to do; tell her what to do.
- Explain the vocabulary words of what you want her to do.
- Demonstrate the vocabulary words of what you want her to do.
- Have her repeat what you have just shown her. Give her praise for doing so.
These things take time. You won’t go through this process one time with your whining two year old and never hear a whine again. If only! It takes time and consistency, but she will get it.
These tips can help you teach your child how to obey. It works! As my toddlers grew to be preschoolers, I only need to give them a look and they changed their whiney tone right away. Often times they even caught themselves if and stopped if they started to whine before even finishing “Mama.” It will come.
- Train To Obey Your Voice
- How to Teach Your Child to Come When Called
- Discipline 101: The Basics of Correcting Children