How Do I Get My Toddler To Pay Attention When I Speak? Because It Feels Impossible

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Claire, do you hear me? Claire, can you please look at me? Claire, Claire, Claire. And so go my daily conversations with my toddler. Sound familiar? It's no surprise that kids from 3-year-olds to teenagers — hello, threenagers! — have a tendency to look the other way when parents request their attention. But somewhere in the transition from infant to toddler, parents notice not only a big change in their child's developmental skills, but their keenness in completely ignoring them. Like me, you're probably wondering: How do I get my toddler to pay attention when I speak?

"Be patient and aware," Donna M. Volpitta, founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership and author of The Resilience Formula, tells Romper in an email interview. "Be willing to wait to speak until they show us that they are paying attention, and when they get distracted, redirect them until they are ready to pay attention again."  

Volpitta says if your child is in the middle of something, then you shouldn't set your expectations too high. "It is unreasonable to expect that they are paying attention to us," she says. When you do try to get their attention, Volpitta recommends making it short, sweet, and direct. "Toddlers cannot handle too many instructions or too much information," she says. "We need to think bullet points and perhaps repeat — and maybe have them repeat — to make sure they get the main points."

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Like Volpitta, Julie Kandall, the educational director at NYC-based Columbus Pre-School tells Romper that if you are trying to get your child's attention and it's not an emergency, then consider waiting a moment or two and taking interest in whatever they are focusing their attention on. "For example, you can say, 'Oh, I notice that you saw these sparkly stickers, they're pretty cool and really colorful. Do you want to use them later? OK, I'm going to hold them for a minute so that I can tell you something. Please turn on your listening ears.'"

Kandall says parents can also model turning on listening ears by pretending to turn a switch on your ears while making a clicking sound. You might also try changing the volume or intonation of your voice.

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"[For example,] start speaking really softly, but loud enough for the child to hear you," Kandall says. "They will most likely find this interesting and be curious to find out what you are saying. Once you have their attention, you can again try telling the child what it is you were trying to tell them before."


Also effective? "The good old 'I need your eyes and ears me' is always a good one," Kandall says.

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"There is a lot happening around us all the time — noises, smells and a ton of visual stimulation," she says. "As adults, most of us are able to block out background noises, motions we see in our periphery and other distractions, but for toddlers, everything around them can spark their curiosity.  They have not yet developed the skills of blocking out the world around them in order to stay focused on what you might be saying to them."

According to Parents, your toddler will eventually learn to ignore such distractions, but in the meantime you should try to keep them to a minimum. "Instead of leaving out a bunch of tempting toys in the living room, have your child select just one and then take it to another area," the magazine noted. Make sure you also turn off the television and choose soothing music if you want to have a little background noise.

Because Claire, Claire, Claire just isn't going to cut it.

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