(Photo: I opened my little tot's bedroom and found him reading a book to his stuffed toys. Now he's talking to little puppy, as if saying "Listen.")
Use the following tips to help just one child or a group of toddlers settle down and listen up:
- Be a listening role model - Try quiet, soothing tones when you speak to your child. Avoid shouting across the room - instead, use proximity (stand or kneel by your child) to get attention. You may wish to play soft music to create a relaxing atmosphere.
- Use hand signals - Show how you can say "Quiet" without speaking a word - by placing a finger to your lips or tuggling your earlobes. You may also teach how hands can "talk" so mouths don't have to. For example, a child can tap a finger on your shoulder or raise a hand in the air to signal that she or he needs help.
- Talk about how eyes "listen" - We may hear through our ears, but our eyes help us "see what to do." During listening time, remind children, "Look at my eyes, please," or "Eyes on me." This makes it easier for each child to hear your directions and follow them.
- Model an "indoor voice." - Demonstrate how an indoor voice sounds compared to an outdoor one. Make the phrase "Use your indoor voice" a part of your daily reminders.
- Teach steps for settling down - Getting toddlers to quiet their busy little bodies needs to happen in stages. Try to do this sequence: First, get them to sit cross-legged on the floor and place their hands on their laps. Next, ask them to make their bodies calm and still. Finally, have the children pretend to zip and lock their lips with an invisible key and put the key away. Or try the "if you can hear me" option: "If you can hear me, touch your nose. If you can hear me, sit down. If you can hear me, don't speak. If you can hear me, sit and listen quietly."
- Practice circle manners - Circle time can lead to wiggles, giggles, "I want to sit by her," and " He bumped me!" Show children how to keep their hands and feet to themselves and respect their neighbors. Create lots of opportunities for practice.
- Give light-hearted reminders and praise. - You might say, "Let's use our listening ears," while you tug on your earlobes. Or pretend to zip and lock your lips and hide the key. To reinforce that it's time to listen, use this chant: "I'm quiet as a mouse. I'm still as can be. Who's ready to listen? Me!"