Talking to your toddler – what words work

Jo Frost explains why language is your strongest weapon

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We tracked down Supernanny Jo Frost to talk about talking to your toddler. “Sometimes we can use words very flippantly,” Jo tells us. “We don’t always realise how they might be interpreted in a child’s world. But key communication is one of our touchstones.”

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The power of ‘no’

Sometimes your toddler needs to know that no means no but as your little man develops his own strong opinions, you may find the power of ‘no’ waning as you use it time and again. “I think parent have been fearful to say no,” agrees Jo. “I’ve been in situations where parents feel they’re being too strict or too mean when they tell a child no, but there are times when a child needs to know absolutely a yes or a no answer.”

“Being direct and keeping thing clear can really help our younger ones, especially at this stage before their mental maturity has begun to kick in. Don’t say maybe if you know the real answer is no,” Jo adds.

Beware of labelling

Do you have a naughty one and a little angel? Most parents would admit it’s hard not to label their children as one or the other. But could you be encouraging them to live up to it? Jo believes that it does.

“We all know we shouldn’t label children and yet we still do it,” Jo says.  “We use analogies to describe our children’s behaviour when we know it can be a self fulfilling prophesy, because children sometimes end up wanting to confirm their label. So you have to be very conscious about that language you use around your little ones.”

But sometimes, you can bring out the big guns. If your tot’s been naughty, Jo doesn’t see any problem with telling him so. “I use the word naughty, I have no problem with it. Unruly behavior to me is naughty, so if a child misbehaves I explain,  ‘You’ve misbehaved, that’s really naughty’.

Alternatives to ‘no’

Apart from threatening to bring round supernanny herself, what else can you use when ‘no’ just doesn’t cut the mustard?

“Better than no, try to explain,” suggests Jo. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will understand but if you explain calmly the cause and effect, it can have more weight than a single word,” she explains. “For example, if your child is heading toward the glass on a door, instead of saying ‘no’, you try ‘stop’ then  say ‘oww’, or ‘hot hot’ so they see the consequences that might happen.”

Don’t pass the buck

It’s hard not to put off answering a difficult question by telling your child to wait for your partner to get home. But Jo warns this can affect your confidence as a parent. “Try to have those discussions with your partner, so if a tricky question arises, you can make a decision knowing that the other parent will be happy with it,” she advises. “It’s important to keep talking to your partner about raising your child beyond being a baby and well into being a toddler. It helps you feel like a team and equal parents.”

Use the right tone

Getting your child to communicate well back to you is vital too.

“There’s a lot to be said about leading by example and realising that our little ones mimic both our verbal and physical behaviour,” says Jo. “I get asked about whining often by parents and it’s important to show them how you want them to talk. Set up very clear expectations to actually demonstrate the particular tone of voice that you want. They can only do what you want if you explain it clearly to them.”

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Jo Frost has also given MFM her top advice on creating a well-mannered toddler (yes, really!). Her book, Confident Toddler Care is out now and she returns to TV on Channel 4’s Extreme Parental Guidance in July.

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