Children, as they grow, feel more and more independent and want to do things their way. Once your child turns two, he may become less willing to follow directions. His sense of understanding increases, making him want to experience new things and try things on his own.
Although children are like sponges, there comes a point when they may develop difficulties in following directions. When they begin to explore their independence and develop a self-image, a child’s non-compliance is their way of communicating that they are their own person. They develop their own likes and dislikes and recognize that parent’s desires do not always match their own.
A major part of discipline is learning how to talk to children so they will listen. The way we speak to them and those around us is showing them how we want them to speak back to us. Communicating with children in an assertive manner is by far the most effective way. An assertive way of communicating is firm, consistent, clear, positive, warm, and confident. Communicating with children in an assertive way is a real skill yet it shows your child that you understand what they are talking about and teaches them how to listen.
Here are some ways of getting your child’s attention to get them to follow directions:
Use Your Child’s Name: We all like the sound of our own names. The same goes for children. Open your request with the child’s name. Young children can often only concentrate on one thing at a time. Call your child’s name until you have their attention before you speak to make sure they are listening. You may have to wait for them to give you their attention before you speak.
Connect with your Child: Be close and be on your child’s eye-level when making a request. You may need to get down to their level or sit at the table with them. When you are chatting with your children, this shows them also what they should do. Not only is it good manners, it helps you to listen to each other. Say your child’s name until you get their eye contact, especially before giving them a direction. It is important that they give you their attention, and you should model the same behavior for them.
One-Sentence Rule: Stay brief and put the main directive in the opening sentence. The longer you talk, the more likely your child is to lose you midway. Too much talking is a very common mistake when talking about an issue. It gives the child the feeling that you are not quite sure what it is you want to say.
Use Positive Language: Try to word what you want them to do in a positive tone. For example, “Only walking inside please” instead of “No running inside!” This requires much thought and practice but is well worth the effort. Try to eliminate words you use that may be ridiculing, name-calling, or shaming. This type of language achieves very little except to leave your child feeling embarrassed. Positive and kind words give your child more confidence, makes them feel happier, helps them behave better, and encourages them to try harder to achieve success. They learn to imitate you and deliver the same respect and praise to others. This helps improve your child’s emotional development.
Threats and judgmental openers are likely to put the child on the defensive. Try “I would like….” or “I am so pleased when you…” Instead of “You need to clear the table,” say “I need you to clear the table.” Don’t ask a leading question when a negative answer is not an option. Children are more likely to follow directions when the tone is positive.
Model and Expect Good Manners: Good manners at home and everywhere else should not be optional. If you model good manners to your children and everyone else, they will see that good manners are expected and displayed on a consistent basis. Start teaching your children to say the basics like “please” and “thank you” before they can talk. Children deserve the common courtesy of manners that adults use with each other. They will often imitate the speech and behavior of their parents and care takers. Say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to your children as you would to anyone else.
Speak Developmentally Correctly: The younger the child, the shorter and simpler your directives should be. Consider your child’s level of understanding. For example, a common error parents make is asking a three-year- old a question about their behavior that even an adult may not be able to answer.
Limit your Use of Directives and Questions: Do not give your child more opportunities to practice “not listening” by asking questions or giving directions that they fail to respond to. Instead, only make a request when you have time to follow through and ask a question that your child is likely to respond to.
Model Good Listening: Be a role model for good listening by showing that you are listening to your child by imitating and reflecting back what your child says. Children are good at expressing themselves with actions. Try to verbalize the feelings your child is expressing with behavior, in words. If your child is too young to speak, try to teach them sign language to help them communicate. Babies as young as six to seven months old can start learning signs.
It is difficult to embrace a child’s resistant behavior at any age; however, responding harshly or with criticism only makes the behavior worse and can potentially damage your child’s self-esteem. This makes your child stubborn and resist more. Instead, remain calm and keep in mind that non-compliance is a part of development that results in children becoming the unique individuals that they are destined to be as they grow.