Learning to listen

Our 2-and-a-half year old shouts. It’s tempting to shout back, says Christian Lloyd – above the din


Pretzels. The new currency © Laura Eades 2014

A quick intro from Laura:

Since my husband Christian appears to be that bit more patient, I really wanted to hear more of what he thought about compromise in our household. Here he talks about trying to find out what she really wants, however irrational it seems – and giving her a little of it, in exchange for some peace. He says: 

Control, power, opinions, frustration, energy to burn – it’s quite a cocktail of cognitive and physical disciplines our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter’s taking on all at once!

Admittedly when the tantrums first kicked in I found it difficult not to fall into the trap of referring to this as the imminent onslaught of the ‘terrible twos’! But now I’d like to think that I’m more bothered about understanding rather than behavioural pigeon-holing.

What’s going on in our daughter’s brain during a tantrum?

I’m starting to view it as the stage where neurodevelopment is being fast-tracked. And with so many keyholes being unlocked at one time and not enough ways to communicate what’s behind the many (or ‘loadsamany’ as our bright spark says*) tiny little doors, then she’s bound to throw her toys out the pram. Please excuse the idiom: In her case her expression of frustration is more likely to be in the form of screaming the house down or kicking out if she doesn’t want to change her nappy or to put her pyjamas on!

Listening – her, and us too

She’s definitely getting better at listening (and so are we!) The initial reaction was to respond with a raised voice to try and instil some discipline but we soon realised that shouting back was just crazy… a bit like if I was to throw spaghetti back in her face to try to show her that chucking food around at meal times was bad!

By letting her maintain some level of control and giving an alternative option (or a slightly watered-down version of what she originally wanted) then this helps maintain an element of balance and control on both sides and shows that you are in fact listening!

That’s when the bargaining strategies came in

Incentives can be very effective especially around eating time, which is usually a gymnastic event in our house (though we try not to use food as an incentive at other times).

While supervising suppertime the other evening, I made the mistake of trying to sneak in a couple of mini pretzels (the salty snacks you get here in Germany!) and this was met with screaming demands of ‘PRETZELS’! Obviously I didn’t want to give in, but decided to try to cut a deal.”You eat eat two spoonfuls of rice and five pomegranate segments and you can have a pretzel”.

It worked, so I kept upping the stakes until she had cleaned up.

She did keep asking me to “stop peeling the pretzels”, though – I was actually breaking off the bits of salt to make them a bit less naughty! But all in all, the bargaining worked, and she went to bed with a full tummy and no more shouting!

Brushing up on bargaining

Brushing teeth also used to be a nightmare. I literally used to dread that time of the day! It was like trying to wrestle a mini-crocodile who just wouldn’t open her mouth.

We redressed the balance: “OK, you clean my teeth and I’ll clean yours”. That helped. And  building on this equality came a bit more independence (sometimes still a bit too much!) but it’s much better. We both clean our own teeth now, and finish by singing Ba Ba Black Sheep as I give her teeth a final brush!

Note from Laura: Christian’s right, this did work. But we also used up about four whole sheets of stickers as an incentive, to get to the point of success. The bathroom furniture is covered in flamingoes…

If all else fails, distract!

If the fireworks are in full flow (or better still just about to be lit) then an animated and enthusiastic suggestion of a game of hide and seek or tunnels or diving off the sofa onto a mattress seems to work a treat… Something physical, something inclusive.

And if that doesn’t work then as a very last resort bust out the iPad… but that’s another can of worms up for discussion another time: How on earth do you then distract a 2-and-half-year-old off the iPad?

* ‘loadsamany’ –  not to be confused with Harry Enfield’s once famous catchphrase

* * *

Who’s Chris?

Christian Lloyd is a father and primary school teacher (currently teaching 8-year-olds). He’s 40 years old and is a British ex-pat living in Berlin, with his wife Laura Eades, and their little girl. His specialisms and interests include teaching foreign languages to primary-aged children, child development, and introducing the idea of life skills at early ages. Somehow, he also listens to as much Indie music as he can – live gigs when possible.

* * *

Over to you… your advice please!

Where’s the fine line between bargaining, bribery and postive reinforcement exactly? What works as an incentive with a two-and-a-half-year-old other than food? And what’s worked for you to tackle tantrums? (Obviously, we just want your advice so we can sort ourselves out) – click on the pale grey dot under the blogpost to open the comments section. We’d love to hear from you.

_ _ _

Read more about Parenting on Illustrated Guide to Life: