Teaching obedience to your toddler will not only keep him safe and happy but also show that you love and care for him dearly.
By Akanksha Deshpande
What is the toughest lesson to teach a toddler? The answer to this question may vary, but teaching obedience would certainly figure on the top of the list.
Do you often give up when your child refuses to heed your call to return from the park? Is dressing her up always a Herculean task for you? Do you often give in to her tantrums and end up buying her what she demands? If yes, then read on. After reading this article, I am sure you’ll find yourself better equipped to handle a disobedient child.
But before we discuss the reasons and solutions for disobedience in toddlers, let’s understand what obedience means. Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in which he found that ‘obedience is compliance with commands given by an authority figure’.
Parents should understand that children are different from adults. While adults are guided by logic, children are governed by emotions. So, children may not be willing to comply every time with what they are being told to do. Also, curiosity, bad mood or confusion can affect their willingness to obey.
But by bringing about a change in children’s emotional state, parents can make them more receptive to what is being asked of them.
Most parents use negative language to communicate with their children. For example, ‘don’t jump’, ‘don’t spill water from the glass’, ‘stop colouring’, ‘do not litter around’, ‘don’t have food on the bed’, etc.
Ask yourself, ‘Did you enjoy listening to ‘No’ or ‘don’t’ when you were young?’ Or do you like to listen to these two negative words even today? The answer is no. In fact, none of us like to be at the receiving end of negative language.
So, try to use positive statements when you are talking to your child. For example, you can say ‘Sit down’ instead of saying ‘Don’t jump’, or ‘Hold the glass of water with both your hands’ instead of ‘Don’t spill water from the glass’.
Try to connect with your child, before giving her commands. When you want her to switch from one activity to another, inform her what you expect her to do in the next few minutes. This will help her focus on what she should do next and also make her more receptive to what you want her to do.
Remember, trying to force children to do something by yelling at or hitting them doesn’t help. Instead, try to move closer to them, maintain eye contact and express what is expected of them.
For example, your child is busy playing on the slide in the park. Standing some distance away from her, you ask her to stop playing and rush to the car. Chances are that she may not obey you.
On the contrary, move closer to her, maintain eye contact, and try saying, ‘Wow! You seem to be having great fun on the slide, but you must be hungry. Let’s go home and grab your favourite food’. This will help distract your child’s attention from the slide and focus it on the area of concern (food), and there is every possibility that she will follow you happily.
As children grow, they want to control more and more aspects of their life. Giving choices is one way of giving them control but on terms set by parents.
State all your directions as choices when you can. Instead of saying, ‘You need to get dressed now’. Try saying, ‘Do you want to put on your shirt or pant first?’ Similarly, avoid making something sound like a choice when ‘No’ is not an option. For example, do not say ‘Can you come to the dinner table?’
Often there are different set of rules for different members of the family, especially when living in a joint or extended family.
In such a situation, it is important for your child to see his parents as role models. So, if you want your child to brush twice a day, take the lead and start doing yourself what you want him to do. Similarly, if you want him to learn to listen attentively to you, pay complete attention when he wants to communicate with you; stop doing whatever you may be busy with at that time.
Be consistent in giving commands. Your child is more likely to obey clear and consistent commands. Also let her know the consequences of following or not following your command.
For example, ‘First wear your shoes, then you can play in the garden’. Or ‘If you put that toy in your mouth again, I’m going to take it away’.
Once you’ve issued a directive to your child, follow through on the consequence if she doesn’t obey you.
But if your child obeys, acknowledge it with abundant praise. For example, ‘Good! Thank you for doing what I asked you to do!’
Be compassionate; don’t be ashamed of your child’s misbehaviour. Remember, your child’s behaviour is not a reflection of your parenting skills. So, avoid evaluating yourself, and accept your child.
In a nutshell, no disciplinary actions can guarantee a well-behaved child all the time. Always remember that incivility, impulsivity and a carefree mind is what differentiates a child from an adult.
The author is Professor, Department of Humanities at Ramdeobaba College of Engineering, Maharashtra. She writes on adolescents and self-esteem.
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