Sophia did you make a poop?
Sophia, I asked you if your diaper is dirty.
My toddler is stonewalling me. She heard me alright. I’m only a few feet away. But she seems to think that if she doesn’t respond, I’ll let up with this line of questioning.
Sophia, I’m going to check your diaper.
NONONONONONONO. You are not allowed to do that!
Ah hah! I have my answer.
I thought selective hearing was the domain of teenagers. As if puberty somehow temporarily hijacked one’s ability to process requests to come downstairs for dinner, clean your room, feed the dog, do homework, etc. Turns out, it’s actually a skill that is honed over time, taking root in toddlerhood and reaching full maturity at about age 12. In fact, in a survey of parents who conduct psychological research on their own children, some parents reported that their children began ignoring them as early as 2-4. However, the majority of children appeared to listen to their parents approximately 75% of the time until the onset of adolescence, when the percentage of children who listened to their parents precipitously dropped to 15%.
I conducted a little off-line, anecdotal research of my own. I started with my friend Nancy, mother of three. She reported that there does seem to be a significant change in listening ability that occurs between the ages of one and two. Her 12-month-old still hangs on her every word, eagerly watching her mother's mouth as Nancy speaks and responding in kind. Whereas her baby will not always comply with requests to say “hi” or “bye” Nancy feels quite certain that her daughter’s reticence is not due to ignoring, but rather a nascent form of performance anxiety. Her twin toddler boys are a different story. Recently, at a fair, the boys each won a large ball. Completely enamored with their big balls, the boys began to bounce them on the spot. Nancy wanted to move the boys along, but her requests for them to keep walking fell on deaf ears. The boys continued to bounce their balls, oblivious to their mother’s entreaties.
What can we do as parents to combat this powerful strategy? We can repeat ourselves till we’re blue in the face, but frankly, I’m not a fan of repeating myself. And it doesn’t seem to get me anywhere to 1) say it again (I asked if you have a poop in your diaper.); 2) say it louder (I ASKED IF YOU HAVE A POOP IN YOUR DIAPER!); 3) say it meaner. (Listen to me when I talk to you! I asked if you have a stinky poop in your stinkin’ diaper!!!!!). No, we need to fight back. So, today I am encouraging all parents to engage in selective listening with your kids. I know; this seems completely out of character for me. I’m all about empathy and hearing what your kids have to say. I’m talking about selective listening…if they ask to watch TV, have dessert, buy them a new DS, IGNORE THEM. Act like you just didn’t hear. That’s right. They can beg, they can plead, but show them you’ve got stamina. Tell them: Game ON!
All right, maybe not. But no more Mr. Nice Melissa. I resolve to not ask twice. I will ask once and then I will peek in the back of that diaper. Enough talking—I will move to act.
Who’s with me?