How to get your child to do what you say - the first time!


I was rushing, getting the lunch boxes ready, putting socks on the baby, and the rubbish bin out for collection – whilst whizzing around, I shout to my 6 year old, ‘Come on Chop chop! – wash your hands, get your shoes on and put your lunch in your bag!’

Having got my toddler's coat on and retrieved my keys from the back of the sofa, I start walking through the door – and where is my 6 year old? Playing with his budgie! No lunchbox in bag. No shoes on.

I shout despairingly as I chivvy my reluctant children out of the door -

‘Why don’t you ever listen to a word I say???!!’

‘Why can’t you do what I say the first time I tell you!?’

“Why do I have to tell you over and over what to do?”

I know I am not the only Mum who has had to repeat instructions or information, sometimes several times, before my child ‘clicks’ and responds.

Nothing wrong with their hearing or listening, or intelligence.

This was my problem, not theirs.

When I handled these routines or new activities well, the children ‘heard’ well and responded!

Here are three pointers to reduce the stress, and get order into the chaos of doing things and going places with young children.

  • Preparation: Organise yourself first. Know what needs to be done, have it clear in your mind – using a list, or the Nozbe app* as I do, particularly if it is a new activity or trip, helps to have the whole thing in order in your mind. ( I love ticking off the list!)

  • Get a few minutes when your family is together, either at breakfast or even at the meal time the evening before, to talk the activity through with your children / family so they can work together. Make it fun and exciting to work together, even offer an incentive, like going to the park afterwards, or a favourite food treat when they come home.

  • Tell them what to expect, even if it is a routine activity, such as going to school.Point out the things in the routine that are different, make sure your child knows what they are and what he or she is to do.

  • Use a picture timetable, or a written list, to help everyone tick off the things to be done. Make sure each child is listening – get the child to repeat back to you what he or she is going to do.

The above steps really help for all children.

They are even more important when your child has difficulties with attention and listening, or with understanding what is said, because things do not take him by surprise, he knows what to expect.

They will help you, too, because you are more able to breathe calmly and lead everyone.

These ideas help make things clear when giving instructions or information:

1. Talk about the ‘here and now’, events that are being experienced or seen by the child. If it is about something in the future, use story books or pictures to help, or objects that help link with what the child will be doing.

2. Focus your conversation on what the child is doing, or what he is interested in: make that the start point to tell him the next step, or what you want him to do. (‘You are playing with the cat, now, let him go in the garden, and you get you’re your shoes on…’)

3. Split long sentences into short ones, use simple words and sentence forms. (First put your shoes on, then put your lunchbox in your bag….’)

4. Give only one or two key pieces of information when you talk, repeating them in another way if necessary – or get him to say it back to you.

5. Remember that the child is more likely to remember the first or the last thing you say

- and here is just a thought on the subject of the older ones who seem to get more deaf as they turn into teenagers!

It may be necessary to be really tough to get that one-time instruction response effective.

A good friend of mine tells how she was fed up calling her teenage son to dinner until it was cold. She then told him: 'I am only telling you once - your dinner is ready, come now please'.

When after 10 minutes he had not come, the dinner was put in the freezer, and he did not get it. He made sure to come when called after that!

Enjoy getting in control of those crazy mornings and outings! I loved it when it did go well.

Best wishes

Margi Kulsoom

*Nozbe: highly recommended organiser! https://nozbe.com/?a=semanticlabs


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