Parenting Tip of the Month: Giving Effective Instructions

by | Feb 1, 2017

Trying to get your kid to do what you asked can be very difficult. At times it can feel like you are a broken record, having to repeat yourself over and over and over again until eventually you find yourself screaming and yelling. No child, or parent for that matter, likes when that happens. While it is easy to place all of the blame on your child for their lack of listening and compliance, there is a good chance that you are partially to blame.

While giving directions may seem pretty straightforward, there are certain direction giving pitfalls that parents fall victim to that make those directions less effective. In this month’s tip, I am going to share some dos and don’ts for giving effective instructions that will ultimately lead to significant improvements in your child’s compliance.

Don’t: Give “let’s” instructions. This is a problem because it makes the command seem like a suggestion when it really is a direction.
“Let’s put away your toys.”
Do: Give a direct command.
“Please put away your toys by lunch.” (giving a time frame for completion can be helpful)

Don’t: Ask questions. Asking implies that they can say no.
“Can you clean up the dishes after dinner?”
Do: Give a direct command.
“Please clean up the dishes after dinner.”

Don’t: Give generic directions.
“Be good at the table.”
Do: Be specific. Kids don’t always know what “good” means. Help them learn what is expected by communicating your expectations directly and specifically.
“Please chew with your mouth shut and stay seated during dinner.”

Don’t: Give you child lists. Their attention span is shorter than yours and they may not remember all of the things you asked them to do.
“Get up, get dressed, brush your teeth, and get your backpack ready for school.”
Do: Give short directions and give you child time to complete the task before giving the next direction.
“Please get out of bed now.” Wait before giving next direction.

Don’t: Give directions when you child is not paying attention (i.e. in another room, watching TV, etc.). While you may get an “OK,” chances are they weren’t attending to what you were saying.
Do: Make sure you are making eye contact and have their full attention. It can be helpful to have them repeat back the direction to ensure that they heard you.

Do: Prepare your child for transitions. Give them one or two warnings before a transition so that they can prepare.
“In 5 minutes, you will need to turn off the TV and get in your pajamas.”

So, remember that ineffective directions can set both you and your child up for failure. Be direct, keep things simple, and remember to get your child’s full attention next time you are asking them to do something. If you do these things, I know that you will see a marked improvement in your child’s compliance in no time.