How to Talk so Your Preschooler Will Listen

Image via Katie Hurley

Parents spend a lot time talking and giving directions, especially when it comes to preschoolers. I remember trying to get out the door to preschool on time with my daughter. Most days, it felt like a miracle if we made it out the door with everything we needed and if we were close to on time.

It wasn't a lack of listening skills that slowed us down during those days — it was increased curiosity and the abundance of interesting things lurking around every corner that triggered delays. I learned to factor in lots of extra time and to rely on picture lists to keep everyone moving along.

Preschool brings big changes for little ones, and asserting independence and increased curiosity often top the list.

The world is exciting, and big kids really know how to do things! For parents, this can feel like a normally cooperative child suddenly doesn't listen.

Kids change as they grow, and adults need to change with them. What seemed to work well when they were 2, for example, probably won't continue to work so well when they're 4.

It's easy to get caught up in power struggles, and this can really upset the balance of the home. Learning to communicate with your child (versus talking at your child) can change everything for the positive.

Try a few of these strategies for talking so that your preschooler will listen:

Image via Flickr/ amslerPIX

Make the connection

Adults are big and tall, and this can feel overwhelming when you're little (even if you secretly think you're really big). As parents, we tend to forget that we tower over our little ones. This power differential can make little ones feel very small, which can cause them to shut down in response.

Get low and make eye contact with your child when you talk. Watch your body language. Do you have your arms crossed, and are you in a stiff posture? This can signal trouble for little ones. Try to relax your muscles and keep your arms open. Talking about difficult topics or bad choices doesn't have to be done in a negative manner. In fact, your child is more likely to hear you and engage in a reciprocal conversation when you are calm and relaxed.

{ MORE: Emotional Regulation and the Gifted Child }

mother talking with her unhappy son at home
Image via iStock

Encourage reciprocal conversation

We tend to pummel kids with yes or no questions when we want to get information, but this doesn't leave much room for communication. No one likes to be interrogated, after all. Ask your child to describe things, be it the events that caused the problem or how he felt before and after it. Better yet, skip the questions and make empathic statements instead. When we show our kids that we are also vulnerable, they are more likely to open up.

It's important to empower kids to assert their needs and share their feelings. When we cut them off and only allow yes or no answers, we don't give them the opportunity to engage in a discussion.

Image via Flickr/ amcdawes

Keep directions simple

Sure, your preschooler can probably follow two-step directions, but that doesn't mean that your preschooler can process everything you say when you rattle off a list of things to do. Start with one direction at a time. Try, “I really need your help putting those toys in the bin. Come let me know when you finish!”

{ MORE: Mastering Family Vacations with School-Aged Kids }

Image via Flickr/ stevendepolo

Use visuals

When the world around you is super interesting, it's easy to be forgetful. Visual cues are a great way to help your preschooler get his jobs done. (Look around a preschool classroom, you will see visual cues everywhere.)

Take the guesswork out of what needs to be done before leaving the house, for example, by placing a picture list on the front door. It might include socks, shoes, jacket, and lunch bag. I used these for morning jobs, for nighttime jobs, and for getting ready to leave the house. While my kids have outgrown them, I still put lists on the front door for myself when I have a lot to conquer in one day!

happy mother with happy kids
Image via iStock

Keep it fun

Songs and rhymes keep kids interested and help them remember what they're supposed to do. You might have noticed that your child has an incredible capacity to memorize toddler tunes. Use that to your advantage!

Rewrite the lyrics to your favorite toddler tunes while you give directions or come up with silly rhymes. This will keep the positive energy flowing while you connect with your child and help your child listen and follow directions.

{ MORE: Tips to Motivate You to Get the Kids Outside (Even Though it Gets Dark So Early) }

What is your biggest struggle with getting your preschooler to listen?

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How to Talk so Your Preschooler Will Listen

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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