3 Steps To Best Communicate With Your 3-Year Old (using coaching moments on the floor)

A few weeks ago I caught myself asking my 3-year old these three questions: “Are you supposed to be doing that?”, “Are you being a good boy?”, “What are you supposed to be doing right now?”. Perhaps it was my gentle tone of voice (after sternly telling him to sit down on the floor) and the lack of frustration I expressed with my questions, but to my awe, he responded as though I was asking him whether he wanted to go outside to ride his bike. He was confident and articulate with his: “No”, “No”, and “Getting ready for bed” answers. He knew exactly how to answer the questions and to my awe, there was calmness to his words.

My 3-year old is anything but a calm boy. He’s full of energy, he’s driven—we’re still trying to determine where that comes from!—and in “that toddler way”, he’s often defiant with his actions. That brief moment of calmness that was created when I gently asked those three questions was rare and highly valuable. He made eye contact with me, he displayed disappointment in himself and yet excitement for what he knew he should be doing, and he did it all himself!

As I reflected on what just happened, it quickly became apparent that this approach really worked wonders for him. Best of all, it required no yelling, no expression of anger or frustration on my part—which rarely actually works—and in a true “coach approach” fashion, he completely sorted it out himself.
Over the coming weeks, I began testing out this new parenting strategy on both my 2 and 3-year old boys. The following are what I identified to be the 3 keys to the success of communicating with my toddlers:

1.  I sternly ask them to sit down and I remove all toys from their reach. They respond immediately and are attentive through direct eye contact with me (as they want to get up, and they want the toys).

2. I ask a series of questions (applicable to the situation) to get them both thinking and talking with me. Mostly commonly, I ask: “Are you supposed to be doing that?”, “Are you being a good boy?”, and “What are you supposed to be doing right now?”. Their attention span is so much better when they are talking to me than when I’m talking to them so the more I can get them to talk, the better.

3. Once they identify that they aren’t doing the right thing and they tell me what they should be doing instead, I immediately let them correct their own action by doing that thing (going to bed, brushing teeth, eating dinner, etc).

After dozens of coaching moments with both my 2 and 3-year olds over the past few weeks using this process, it’s clear that coaching can start at the age of 2!

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