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Parenting: Better Instructions, More Cooperation

Parenting: Better Instructions, More Cooperation is a guest post by Dr. Steven Meyers, clinical psychologist

Do you become frustrated when your young child ignores your instructions?  Does this lead to arguments and stress at home?  Psychologists have researched how small changes in the way you give children directions can produce significant changes in how often they follow them.  Here are five helpful steps to remember:

1.  Decide if your request is important. Parents have to prioritize the importance of the requests that they make, especially with children who misbehave often. Most children will only comply about 50% of the time, so choose your battles wisely.  It is better not to ask at all rather than to make a request and give in later.  Conserve your energy and preserve some good will by focusing on the most critical problems first.

2.  Say it like you mean it. Parents can unintentionally decrease the chance that their child will comply because of their voice tone.  Some parents become frustrated and yell, which undermines their control of the situation. Other parents sound too meek when giving instructions.  Instead, remember these key words: “slow, low, louder.”  Children know the situation is serious when parents talk at a slower rate, drop their voice an octave, and speak somewhat louder than their normal conversational volume.  Sentences work better than questions when you do this.  For example, “Please put the toy in the box” will probably result in better behavior than “Can you put your toy in the box for me?” for a child who often tests limits.

3.  One instruction at a time.  Keeping things simple is always a good rule of thumb.  If your child has to do several things, break your instructions down into small steps.  Wait for her to complete the task, and then give her the next request.  Staying close by helps as well. The farther away you are, the less likely your child will pay attention.

4.  Be as concrete as possible.  Some children take advantage of the wiggle room that vague requests provide.  Have you ever asked your child to stop hitting his sister, only to see him then kick her instead?  You and I understand what it means to share toys or clean up.  However, young children are much more likely to be on the same page when you ask a him to give the game to his brother now, or put these Lego pieces away in this blue container.

5. Wait until later to reason. Many parents get pulled into the trap of reasoning with their children in the middle of a conflict situation. The best time to provide explanations or decide on policy is when everyone is calm, cool, and collected.

These five steps sound simple, but they can be more challenging to put into practice than you may think.  Parents need to carefully monitor what they say because many of us act reflexively when interacting with our children. It can also be tricky to remember these steps when you’re upset or in the middle of a stressful situation with your child.  Practice and patience go a long way when you want to make any changes in parenting.

Interested in learning more?  Take Dr. Meyers’s online parenting class, “Parenting for Better Behaved Kids” at a special 50% discount with the following link: https://www.udemy.com/parenting-class/?couponCode=PARENTS25

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