Think for a minute about how many times per day you give your child a direction. 50 times? 100 times? More? I wouldn’t doubt it. Children need a lot of guidance. Now think about how many times per each direction you have to repeat yourself before your child will comply. 3 repeats? 5 repeats? 10?
I don’t even have to do the math to know that’s a lot! You must be exhausted and frustrated.
I’m going to share a strategy that will go a long way in getting your child to listen: give choices.
Why? Choices break it down for your child. Giving your child choices gets what you need done, and it allows your child to make some decisions on his own so he can feel somewhat independent and not bossed around. This is important for every child from the age of 2 thru 17 (my guess is it feels good for you too).
First, think of the task you need your child to do. Put the backpack away. Clean the dishes. Make the bed. Fold the laundary. Do homework. The list goes on… I’m sure you have a million more. Focus on one for now.
Now, here’s the part where you get to use your creativity and flexibility skills. Remember, if you are inflexible your child will be as well.
Think of two ways in which the task can be done. Take for instance putting the backpack away. I can think of two acceptable places the backpack can be other than the middle of the hallway in front of the door: in your child’s room against the wall or the hallway closet, for instance.
Here’s the sample line you might say:
“Before you start watching TV your backpack needs to put away, because it’s not safe to leave it on the floor. You can put it in the hallway closet or up in your room.”
You stated your expectations and the reason why (super important!) and followed it up with two choices.
And here’s the follow thru part:
“If you need a few minutes to get settled that’s ok. You have five minutes. If it’s not done in five minutes I will help you decide and we will do it together.”
You added a little flexibility, stated a measurable time frame, and let your child know you will personally follow thru to help, if needed. Notice I said help, not nag. Big difference!
Add the finishing touch:
“Thank you for putting your backpack away, I appreciate the effort.”
Positive reinforcement encourages your child to do it again.
Abstain from pointing out any attitude he had, leave out backhanded compliments like, “Thank you for doing that but I just can’t understand why you can’t do this on your own,” and definitely no shaming: “You’re ten years old and you should be doing this without me asking.” These statements only sabotage your hard work.
Bottom line: I know what you’re thinking: “That’s a lot of work!” Yes it is, especially if you’ve had a non-compliant child for a while who isn’t used to you giving him choices or following thru. The more you do it, the easier it will become because you are teaching your child what is expected of him, and that you mean what you say.
Please comment below: What choices do you give your child? How easy or hard was it to follow thru?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.