If we want a child to do something, or stop doing something, we need to tell them what to do, in other words give them a command.
It is important to think about exactly what you are saying. For example, if a parent who wants their child to tidy their bedroom says, “Look at this mess! What have I told you about those bricks?” they are not being clear that what they want the child to do.
Instructions such as “When we go to grandmas I want you to behave,” are too vague, what does “behave” mean? Behave how? Similarly “be good”, “be nice to your brother.”
When you give a command it’s good to give a reason but not one that it is too long. A child who is told, “Get ready quick so you won’t be late for school because remember it’s P.E. first thing this morning and you need to be changed by ten past nine ready to go in the hall” will probably not remember the original command.
Parents who say “Would you like to tidy up now please?” can expect the answer, “No!” You should only give a command as a question if the child actually does have an option.
Avoid saying “Let’s tidy up now shall we?” unless you actually intend to join in. If not, the child will feel tricked and will be less likely to follow commands in the future.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Get your child’s attention by calling their name and getting eye contact
2. Use a firm voice that’s, not angry, but slightly louder than usual
3. Give the command as a “do” rather than a “stop” e.g. “James, I want you to start tidying your toys up now” not “Stop playing with your cars now”
4. Give one command at a time. If there are several tasks, wait until the first task has been completed until you give the next command
5. Wait five seconds
- to allow your child to do what you ask
- to complete the task
- before you repeat the command.
If your child begins to do what you ask within five seconds of giving the command, give them plenty of 'attends' and 'rewards'. It is important to give your child positive attention as soon as they start to do what you ask. Keep on giving positive attention (attends are particularly useful) as your child carries on with the task. This is particularly useful when it is a long task, e.g. picking up a number of toys.