Have you ever asked your child to do something and they did not respond? You probably asked in a calm and very rational way, yet instead of action, they stood there with a blank expression on their face, or maybe they completely ignored you and continued playing their favorite video game. You think to yourself, maybe they did not hear me, so you ask again, but this time you put some bass in your voice. Nothing! The situation soon becomes a repetitive cycle of requests. Suddenly, your temperature rises and in utter defeat you begin screaming the same request you calmly stated a few minutes ago. The situation has escalated to the point of no return and everyone is left frustrated and defeated.
This power struggle of communication is common. Most parents disclose having issues with getting their child to comply and follow through with directions. Helping your child “listen” does not have to be a constant battle. Parents can increase compliance and reduce problem behaviors by simple changing the way they communicate. Below are 6 tips to help parents communicate better to increase child compliance.
- Get on their level: When you need to communicate with your child, particularly the younger ones, make sure that you talk with them on their eye level. Parents improve communication by getting on their child’s level, as it ensures that they can hear and see their parent. For teenagers, getting on your child’s level may mean proximity, sitting down and having a conversation. You aren’t barking orders from another room but having a serious conversation face to face, which can establish a foundation of respect.
- Be Direct. Communicate explicitly to children, avoid asking questions when giving a directive. If you ask, “Are you ready to put your toys away?”, your child will more likely continue to engage in the target behavior of playing with their toys, because they “aren’t ready.”. This will surely cause a power struggle between you and your child. So how do you avoid it? Rather than questioning, try saying, “We are going outside now, please put your toys away” then praise when child follows directions. Be direct and avoid closed-ended questions that can lead to a negotiation.
- Praise. Praise your child when they engage in behaviors that you want to see, a key tool to see a reduction in behaviors. Children are more likely to repeat behavior when they are positively reinforced for doing so. This does not always have to involve a prize or gift, but simply words of praise and encouragement. For example, “I love when you clean up your toys”, “thank you for helping our family stay clean and organized”. Acknowledge the behavior with excitement.
- Answer their questions. We all know children can have a million and one questions to ask throughout the day. It can be overwhelming and a “Not right now” maybe the only thing you can handle in a moment. The more you ignore your child’s questions, the more likely they will continue to ask the question until they receive a direct response. At this point, you may become so frustrated that you end up saying something you regret. Validate your child’s feelings while answering their question (e.g. “I know that you would love to play with your toys right now, but you will get a chance to play after dinner.”). Answering your child’s questions can open a line of communication and trust between you and your child.
- Do Away with Don’t: As a parent it may be easy to use negatives such as, “Stop running” or “Don’t talk to your sister that way” or “No hitting”. The response can become a natural impulse during high moments of frustration. However, its important that parents take the time to use positive commands to avoid contradictory and confusing statements. When parents use “Don’t”, children have to stop and process the information and determine the alternative behavior. Parents should instead use positive statements that tell their children what to do.
- Instead of “Don’t talk to you sister that way” try “Please use kind words when talking to your sister”
- Instead of “Don’t put your toys on the floor” try “Please put your toys in the bin”
- Ensure Comprehension: Most adults have been raised to believe that children should just listen, no bargaining or explaining, just do it, because I said so! However, ensuring your child comprehends directives helps them to follow through, as well as prevent future behavior. It’s perfectly fine to explain to your child why they are on punishment or why you want them to follow a specific instruction. Whether the explanation is for their safety or the overall well being of the family, children should know. Moreover, when parents give their child a directive, they can calmly ask the child to repeat back what they said to ensure comprehension.