Parenting Skills- Part 3 Ways to Talk to Kids That Increase Compliance

Welcome back! I hope all readers of this series have been trying these skills and finding some improvements in child behavior by providing more positive attention to desirable behaviors and reducing attention given to undesirable behaviors. The first installment discussed why it is helpful to make this change and provided ways to provide more of that positive attention. The second installment discussed how to combine active ignoring with positive attention to replace unwanted behaviors with more desirable behaviors. This installment is going to discuss ways to talk to children when we want them to do something that will improve the probability that they will do what we tell them to, or other wise known as their compliance. 

compliance childrenSometimes, children may not do what we want them to do because the way that we have told them is not clear. This installment is going to discuss ways that we can improve the directives we give children so we know they are able to understand. This is helpful for two main reasons. First, it will help our children better understand what we are asking of them. Secondly, if we are confident that we have been very clear in what we told our children to do, then if they disobey, we can feel more confident that their disobeying was due to deliberate noncompliance rather than not understanding. This can allow us to feel more confident in following through with the appropriate discipline. Therefore, the rest of the installment will discuss strategy and rationale for providing more effective commands to children.

Be Direct

First, commands will work best when they are direct. In other words, when we are telling our child to do something, we need to make it clear that they must do it by actually saying it as a command rather than a question or other format that may imply that obeying is optional, or that we are going to help the child with the task.

Secondly, commands work best when we tell children what to do instead of what not to do. Often when our children are doing something we do not want, it is easy and natural to say things like “Quit running,” “Don’t whine,” etc. However, this only tells the child what we do not want them to do, not what we do want them to do. Instead, this is a good opportunity to use those positive opposites that were discussed in installment two. If our child is doing something we do not want, we should give them a command for the positive opposite of that behavior. For example, if our child is running in an inappropriate setting, some positive opposite commands we could give would be “Please walk beside me,” or “Please sit in the chair.” Again, this makes it clearer to the child what we want him to do, and it does so in a way that is less negative.

children compliance

Children will be more likely to comply if we tell them one thing at a time. For example, if we tell a child to go upstairs, brush his teeth, make his bed, and pick up his toys, he may forget some of those things. If he skips one task, it is then hard for us to know whether or not to discipline him, because we do not know if he is being noncompliant or if the child forgot. Telling a child to do only one thing at a time helps to avoid this issue.

Making commands specific and using appropriate language for the child’s age will help. Giving a child a command such as “Be good,” or “Calm down,” can be ambiguous. Children are more likely to comply if we tell them very specifically what we want them to do, such as “Sit on your bottom in the chair,” “Use your inside voice,” or “Walk quietly next to me.” Additionally, we should be careful to only give commands that we know the child knows how to do and to use language that we know they understand. That way, if they do not do what they are told, we know it was due to noncompliance rather than not knowing what we wanted them to do.

Use a Normal Voice

Another important tip for commands is to use a normal voice. Using a questioning tone may imply that the command is optional. On the other hand, raising our voice makes the interaction unpleasant for both us and the child. Additionally, if this becomes a pattern, then we teach our children that they do not have to listen until we raise our voice. Therefore, it is best to try to use a calm and normal voice when giving commands.

After giving a command, it is best to not give attention to stalling or questioning behaviors, such as asking why, etc. If you expect that your child may question a command, consider providing the reason for the command before giving it. For example, if you need your child to put on his shoes to leave, you could say, “It is almost time to go. Please put your shoes on.” Having a conversation about ‘why’ or related things delays your child’s compliance and reinforces his stalling behavior.

Try to use commands only when necessary. Excessive commands can be frustrating for a child. That frustration can make it more likely for them to disobey and harder for adults to be consistent with discipline. Additionally, when your child does comply with a command, try to always follow up with specific praise for that behavior. For example, “Thank you for doing what I told you,” or “Thank you for putting on your shoes when I told you.”

Future Installments

Look out for upcoming installments in this series! Future installments will continue to discuss research supported discipline strategies for young children, such as how to successfully implement time-out as a discipline strategy in your home.

If you would like more information regarding these concepts and skills, are interested in applying these principles for older children, or are having significant difficulty managing your child’s behavior, consider calling the clinic to schedule behavior management therapy, in which a clinician can work with your family to implement these principles on an individualized basis.  

Several concepts were adapted from the empirically supported treatment of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy created by Shelia Eyberg and Beverly Funderburk.

Past Installments

If you missed are two previous parenting skills articles go check them out!