This month’s tip is on giving effective instructions to children. One of the most important keys to avoiding inappropriate or problematic behavior is making sure that kids are understanding the message you’re trying to send. When it comes to parenting, sometimes the way instructions are given can be just as important as what you are trying to communicate.
Here are tips from Ania on presenting information to your children to make it more likely that they will hear you and be ready to succeed with your instructions.
- Be direct. Make statements instead of asking questions. For example, say, “Please, sit down” rather than “Are you ready to sit down?”
- Be close. Give instructions when you are near the child rather than calling out from across the room.
- Be clear and specific. Instead of “Go ahead and get started…” say, “Please go start your math assignment.”
- Give age-appropriate instructions. Speak to your child at a level he will understand. If your child is younger or has communication difficulties, keep things simple and use words you know he knows. With older children who are often aware of not being “babies” anymore, it’s important to be clear without being patronizing.
- Give instructions one at a time. Especially for kids who have attention difficulties or trouble understanding because they have a communication deficit, try to avoid giving more than one instruction in a row. For example, avoid saying: “Pack your lunch, put on your shoes, and tell your sister to come downstairs.” Instead, tell the child to pack his lunch; wait until they finish completing it; then ask them to put on their shoes; wait until child finishes putting on their shoes; then give the last instruction to go find the sister.
- Keep explanations simple. Giving a rationale can increase the likelihood children will listen to an instruction, but not if they get confused by too much information or the way it is presented. For instance, avoid saying this: “Go get your coat because it’s raining and I don’t want you to catch a cold.” Instead, try: “It’s raining and I don’t want you to catch a cold. Go get your coat on.”
- Give kids time to respond to the instruction. After you give an instruction, wait a few seconds. Don’t repeat what you said. If you repeat instruction multiple times in a row, this may feel like nagging to a child. Children should learn to listen to calm instructions given once rather than learning that they don’t need to listen because the instructions will be repeated. Watching and waiting also helps keep adults from doing things for their kids.
- Use frequent praise if the child complies with your instruction. Especially if the child tends to refuse a lot or the task is really difficult for them.