1. Connect Before You Direct
Before giving your child directions, squat to your child’s eye level and engage your child in eye-to-eye contact to get his attention. Teach him how to focus: “Mary, I need your eyes.” “Billy, I need your ears.” Offer the same body language when listening to the child. Be sure not to make your eye contact so intense that your child perceives it as controlling rather than connecting.
2. Address The Child
Open your request with the child’s name, “Lauren, will you please…”
We use the one-sentence rule: Put the main directive in the opening sentence. The longer you ramble, the more likely your child is to become parent-deaf. Too much talking is a very common mistake when dialoging about an issue. It gives the child the feeling that you’re not quite sure what it is you want to say. If she can keep you talking she can get you sidetracked.
Use short sentences with one-syllable words. Listen to how kids communicate with each other and take note. When your child shows that glazed, disinterested look, you are no longer being understood.
If he can’t, it’s too long or too complicated.
You can reason with a two or three-year-old, especially to avoid power struggles. “Get dressed so you can go outside and play.” Offer a reason for your request that is to the child’s advantage, and one that is difficult to refuse. This gives her a reason to move out of her power position and do what you want her to do.
Instead of “no running,” try: “Inside we walk, outside you may run.”
Instead of “Get down,” say “I want you to get down.” Instead of “Let Becky have a turn,” say “I want you to let Becky have a turn now.” This works well with children who want to please but don’t like being ordered. By saying “I want,” you give a reason for compliance rather than just an order.
“When you get your teeth brushed, then we’ll begin the story.” “When your work is finished, then you can watch TV.” “When,” which implies that you expect obedience, works better than “if,” which suggests that the child has a choice when you don’t mean to give him one.
Instead of hollering, “Turn off the TV, it’s time for dinner!” walk into the room where your child is watching TV, join in with your child’s interests for a few minutes, and then, during a commercial break, have your child turn off the TV. Going to your child conveys you’re serious about your request; otherwise children interpret this as a mere preference.
“Do you want to put your pajamas on or brush your teeth first?” “Red shirt or blue one?”
The younger the child, the shorter and simpler your directives should be. Consider your child’s level of understanding. For example, a common error parents make is asking a three-year- old, “Why did you do that?” Most adults can’t always answer that question about their behavior. Try instead, “Let’s talk about what you did.”
Even a two-year-old can learn “please.” Expect your child to be polite. Children shouldn’t feel manners are optional. Speak to your children the way you want them to speak to you.
Threats and judgmental openers are likely to put the child on the defensive. “You” messages make a child clam up. “I” messages are non-accusing. Instead of “You’d better do this…” or “You must…,” try “I would like….” or “I am so pleased when you…” Instead of “You need to clear the table,” say “I need you to clear the table.” Don’t ask a leading question when a negative answer is not an option. “Will you please pick up your coat?” Just say, “Pick up your coat, please.”
Reminders can evolve into nagging so easily, especially for preteens who feel being told things puts them in the slave category. Without saying a word you can communicate anything you need said. Talk with a pad and pencil. Leave humorous notes for your child. Then sit back and watch it happen.
The louder your child yells, the softer you respond. Let your child ventilate while you interject timely comments: “I understand” or “Can I help?” Sometimes just having a caring listener available will wind down the tantrum. If you come in at his level, you have two tantrums to deal with. Be the adult for him.
Before giving your directive, restore emotional equilibrium, otherwise you are wasting your time. Nothing sinks in when a child is an emotional wreck.
Toddlers need to be told a thousand times. Children under two have difficulty internalizing your directives. Most three- year-olds begin to internalize directives so that what you ask begins to sink in. Do less and less repeating as your child gets older. Preteens regard repetition as nagging.
Instead of “Don’t leave your mess piled up,” try: “Matthew, think of where you want to store your soccer stuff.” Letting the child fill in the blanks is more likely to create a lasting lesson.
“If you hit, you must sit.” Get your child to repeat them.
You can’t go by yourself to the park; but you can play in the neighbor’s yard.
“We are leaving soon. Say bye-bye to the toys, bye-bye to the girls…”
Carefully chosen phrases open up closed little minds and mouths. Stick to topics that you know your child gets excited about. Ask questions that require more than a yes or no. Stick to specifics. Instead of “Did you have a good day at school today?” try “What is the most fun thing you did today?”
When you run away from mommy in the store I feel worried because you might get lost.
If a matter is really closed to discussion, say so. “I’m not changing my mind about this. Sorry.” You’ll save wear and tear on both you and your child. Reserve your “I mean business” tone of voice for when you do.