GETTING CHILDREN TO DO THINGS (Sometimes)
What you say can be important, but the most important part is how you say it – especially your body language: this should be:
FRIENDLY Smile; friendly tone of voice; greeting with first name; use of humour if appropriate (eg “You’re kidding me”); show approval whenever child responds positively; make sure the child is listening
CONFIDENT Upright relaxed posture; face the child; make direct eye contact as you speak; give a clear direct message, one instruction at a time; be specific about what exactly you want done.
FIRM Position yourself close to the child, when giving a command gesture towards the direction required with an open hand, and/or give a gentle nudge or touch on the shoulder to prompt the child to move.
A child is far more likely to follow a polite, clear instruction from someone who is smiling and touching them in a reassuring way than a shouted command from a stony-faced adult on the other side of the room. Imagine how you would feel! Act as if you believe it will happen; think of yourself as a friendly, patient, immovable object; not a bad-tempered irresistible force.
Try to follow this general sequence:
- Break larger tasks up into smaller steps (manageable chunks)
- Give instructions only when you are next to the child
- Make sure the child is looking at you and listening to you
- Show him what to do (eg by guiding his hands) if he does not start within three seconds (count to yourself)
- Give approval whenever an instruction is followed, e.g. “Great, well done”. Use smiles, cuddles, in an age appropriate way.
- Don’t give a second instruction until the first task is completed
- Do not allow a tantrum to deter you. Sit it out, wait until calm returns, and finish the job.
- It’s reasonable to spell out consequences eg “We’re not going anywhere else until this gets done…” but avoid making harsh threats or calling the child names (both will make the child angry and may make things worse). Especially, do not threaten to withhold something unless you really mean it.
Try to stay in control of the situation (or failing that, appear to be) There are, without doubt, occasions when getting angry is therapeutic for the parent (and the child, who is warned that they have ‘crossed a line’). Mostly, this applies when a child is very spoilt. But the more often a parent gets angry, the less likely it is that the child pays attention, so this is best done rarely, and then it will have some real impact. So if you feel do yourself losing your cool, it’s often useful to make an excuse…“I have to go and phone someone now, we’ll talk about his later”…then, you can walk away and calm down, while still appearing to be calm and in control.
Different children respond… in different ways Some children have to be told, and never do what is asked – others have to be asked, and never do what they are told….we are all different; try to find a way that suits you and your child. Experiment, and if all else fails, do something differently!
When you have to be tough, also try to encourage empathy “What do you think this feels like for me, when I’m late for work already……?”
A good strategy for increasing compliance in the long term is to give ‘spontaneous’ (unplanned) treats after any problem free period; spell this out to the child (and choose rewards to suit the child). And remember…. you can do everything right, and lead a horse to water…. but it may not be thirsty Sometimes, like horses, children have minds of their own.