Do you ever feel like you’re speaking a different language than your child? You’re not alone. The majority of parents I work with express frustration and bewilderment over the fact that their children simply will not listen. The following three strategies may help improve your children’s ability and willingness to follow instructions.
1. Tell Them The “Do’s”
Don’t say “don’t.” Negative instructions are more likely to be ignored and can create power struggles between you and your child. For example, “Don’t draw on the wall” lacks direction on what can be done. When children are given
positive alternatives to their negative behavior, they are more likely to follow through with requests and will learn the positive behavior that is expected from them. For this example, a positive alternative would be, “You cannot draw on the walls. You can draw on this paper.” This kind of instruction teaches your child what he can do instead.
“Walk through the house,” “lower your voice” and “come home at
10 p.m.” are more positive and effective requests than “don’t run,” “don’t yell” and “don’t be late.” Think of all the positive behaviors you would like to see your children do and tell them what to do instead of what not to do.
2. Define Your Expectations
Children often fail to follow instructions when there is confusion or lack of guidance on what they are specifically expected to do. When we generalize our expectations into statements like, “be good,” “clean up your room, and “be nice to your sister,” we inadvertently leave room for interpretation and can get a different result than what we intended. So be clear on exactly what behavior you want to see and define it for your child in a positive instruction. Rather than simply instructing your child to do the dishes, be clear and precise. For example, “Wash, dry and put away all of the dishes in and around the sink.” Clear and positive instructions define your expectations and leave little, if any, room for confusion and excuses.
3. Offer Choices
Offering children choices between two or more options that are within your reason gives children the opportunity to take some control and helps to eliminate power struggles. For example, you may ask your young child, “Do you want to walk to the car or be carried?” Simply asking your child to get in the car may result in an argument. However, giving a choice allows your child to have a say in the way the instruction is followed and still ultimately results in your child getting to the car. Whenever possible give your child a choice as to when or how an instruction can be completed. You might say to your teen: “Your homework needs to be completed. Do you want to start it now or after a snack?” No matter what your teen decides, the homework is still getting done. When you give less commands and offer more choices, you may find that your children start listening.
Kathryn Cannino is the program director of EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute. She is a Certified Family Life Educator through the National Council on Family Relations and is dedicated to her work with Long Island families. Learn more at www.eacinc.org/long-island-parenting-institute.