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Home » Obedience Issues, Toddler

Getting Toddler to Listen – How Signs Can Help

Submitted by on Sunday, 3 May 2009No Comment

One of the hardest things to explain to a toddler does not start with an S.  It begins with an F.

That’s right, flowers.  How do you explain to a toddler that he is not allowed to pick flowers from a public garden, when he so kindly wants to pick one so that he can give it to you?  It nearly breaks my heart.

flowerI was faced with this dilemma the other day, and called on a tried and true method to get me out of it.  I used the sign.  What sign was that, you ask?  Well, luckily for me, there was a sign posted at the garden that said, “Please keep out of the planted area.”  I swiftly pointed the sign out to Smarty Pants and said, “Look, the sign says we have to keep out of the planted area.  That means we are not allowed to go in there and pick flowers.”

“Why does the sign say to keep out of the planted area?” Smarty Pants inquired.  (He is at the “Why?” phase right now, where he asks “Why?” about, oh, 50 thousand times a day).

“Because, these plants are for everyone to enjoy, not just us.  And the gardeners spent a lot of time planting these flowers, and they don’t want anyone to take them away.”  I replied, making it up as I went along, as usual.

“The sign says keep out,” he repeated to himself, satisfied, and moved on.

I have to say, using signs to get Smarty Pants to listen has never failed for me.  Cialdini was right, social proof and authority are powerful influencers.  (or maybe he just prefers to listen to what signs say vs. what I say).

Here are some examples of other times when the “Sign Says” technique has worked for me:

At a play area where Smarty Pants had to wear socks to play – at first when I told him he had to put on socks, he outright refused. He absolutely did not want to put on socks, no matter how many times I told him that he had to. Desperate, I showed him the sign that said that all children must wear socks to play there, and I told him, “This sign says you have to put on socks to play here.”  Right away, he said, “Sign says ‘Put on socks!’” and proceeded to let me put his socks on him without any fuss or muss at all!  It was like telling him he should eat chocolate ice cream.

When passing a construction site – Smarty Pants wanted to go in, but outside there was a sign that said “Do not Enter.”  Despite all my pleading and begging, he kept itching further and further towards the entrance.  Just as I was about to collapse with exhaustion, I noted to him… “This sign says, ‘Do Not Enter!’”  He immediately backed away from the entrance and repeated “Sign says, “Do Not Enter!’” so many times that I almost wished I hadn’t said it in the first place.  I got almost the same reaction that I get when I tell him we are going to buy an M&M cookie.
So that’s it… one small sentence for a man, one giant leap for a toddler.  Try it out, and if your toddler is anything like mine, it just might work for you too!

What are some tactics you use to get your toddler to listen in sticky situations like these?  Leave a comment and let us know!

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