How to Get a Child to Follow Instructions

Parenting

Repeated attempts in trying to get a child to co-operate and follow instructions often lands on deaf ears and leaves parents feeling exhausted and helpless. Frequently we say things we later regret and become riddled with guilt. Usual attempts often include nagging, yelling, spanking, time out, lecturing and threats. Despite consistently not getting the results we’re looking for, we resort to the same methods time and time again. Here are some ideas on how you as a parent can approach the situation differently with your children. Sometimes we resort to bribery to get our children to follow instructions but it is advisable to use this strategy sparingly.

child-follow-instructionsConsider for a moment your own internal response when someone you know demands that you do something or that you to stop doing something. For the most part, we instantly become defensive and decide that we’ll do as we please. We feel robbed of our power and control. We often feel attacked and want to attack back. Children have the same internal response when we use a hostile tone of voice and demand that something be stopped or that something be accomplished.

Simply by rephrasing our request and using a more positive tone we can often get the result we’re looking for. If children don’t feel attacked there is less of a need to become defensive and if they feel they can hold on to some power there is less of a need to gain power.

“Stop that right now!!” can be rephrased to: “As soon as you stop doing that, I’ll know you’re ready to go the park.

“Pick up your toys right now or they’re all going into the garbage!!!” can be changed to: “I need you to pick up your toys before you watch your program. I can help.

Do you want to pick up the lego or the cars?” “Get into the car right now!!!” can be changed to: “We need to go out in the car now. What toy do you want to bring with you?”

When attempting to get your child to pick up toys, without raising your voice you can try saying: “As soon as you’ve put your train set away, I’ll know you’re ready for your snack.” Also, a “no!” response to a child can often be turned into a “yes”.

“Can I have a cookie?” Instead of saying no you can say: “Yes, as soon as we get home, or as soon as you’ve finished your lunch, or later this afternoon…” Nagging and lecturing as a way to engage a child is almost guaranteed to evoke a defiant response. It’s seen as a form of attack which makes us all; young and old respond defensively.

Using language such as, “You need to do this or I need you to do that” can get better results when giving instructions. If a child is doing something that places themselves or someone else at risk of harm you can use statements such as, “You need to stop or you need to move away from that quickly” and remember to explain why you need them to follow your request!

Make your instructions as clear as possible in language that your child understands. You may need to give your child one step of the instructions at a time. For example, you might ask your child clean their room which is quite a broad request. It may help to make the instruction more specific. For example, you might instead instruct your child to pick up their toys and once this task has been completed ask them to put their dirty laundry in a basket. If your instructions are not clear the child may get confused.

Children will learn to respect us more when we show respect towards them. They also learn how to show respect towards others. Do you sometimes hear yourself when overhearing your child playing with another child? I’ve often heard parents say:

“Oh my gosh! She sounds just like me!” Often times, we don’t like what we hear but we can choose to use what we hear out of our of children’s mouths as an opportunity to make some positive changes to our parenting. Children are great mimics. If we want them to treat others respectfully, we first of all have to model respect.

By no means does this mean allowing them to do as they please or ignoring unacceptable behaviour. They need strongly defined limits but within those limits we need to allow them to make acceptable choices. Strongly defined limits means establishing simple, enforceable rules, deciding on appropriate consequences for misbehaviours and following through, and being consistent.

And finally remember to praise your child for follow or attempting to follow your instructions!

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