Dr Richard C. Woolfson
Isn’t it frustrating when your kindergartener ignores your instructions? But maybe it’s not all her fault – maybe the problem lies in how you say it. Here are some common scenarios and how you can communicate your requests better.
“Will you brush your teeth? It is time for bed.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK This suggests your child has a choice of actions, and she may reasonably choose not to brush her teeth right.
TRY THIS “Please brush your teeth now.” This is a very clear expression of your request, and your child has no choice in the matter. Direct commands, without any ambiguity, are usually more effective.
“I’d like you to keep your toys now.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK As far as you are concerned, that’s a request, but your six-year-old could interpret that as a statement.
TRY THIS “Tidy up your toys now because it is time to stop playing.” This is a very explicit instruction, and is accompanied by a reasonable explanation. You are more likely to get a positive response than by issuing the instruction on its own.
“Stop watching TV and come over here to eat your dinner.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK Your child may be so engrossed in TV watching that she doesn’t tune in to your request.
TRY THIS “It is time to switch off the television.” Repeat this instruction until the TV set is switched off. Once the background distraction has been eliminated, issue the second part of your instructions.
“Come over here so that I can read you a story.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK Sometimes your child is so absorbed in her current activity that she fails to hear the rst part of your command.
TRY THIS “Rachel, come over here so that I can read you a story.” Using your child’s name at the very start grabs her attention, and the pause then gives her time to focus on what you say next.
“Don’t run when you are inside our house.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK The problem with “don’t” commands is that they only tell your child what she should not do.
TRY THIS “Only walk when you are inside our house.” A positive command tells her exactly how you want her to behave. This way, she knows that she should only walk at home, and that in turn implies she shouldn’t run, jump or do cartwheels.
“I am phoning your father because you didn’t do what I ask.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK Your child might think “Great, I’d love a chat with him.” Negative attentive can be better than no attention.
TRY THIS “I am very unhappy that you won’t do what I ask, and your father will be disappointed, too, when I tell him tonight.” Instead of rewarding her misbehaviour with immediate attention from her father, punish her with the threat of his anger later.
“I don’t have time to keep asking you over and over again.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK Your kid may think: “Fine by me. Don’t ask any more then.” She’d be happy if you stopped.
TRY THIS “Do things the rst time I ask you, please.” If she gets into the habit of not responding to your command the rst time round, you need to be more insistent. Avoid repetition of the same instruction, if possible, and have a more insistent tone.
“Switch off the TV, put your books away and get into your pyjamas.”
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK In effect, that’s three separate instructions to take in, recall, and then implement.
TRY THIS “Switch off the TV.” When she has done that, tell her to “Put your books away.” And when she has done that, say: “Get into your pyjamas.” Splitting up a complex instruction into smaller parts makes it easier for your six year-old to process.