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It is very frustrating for parents to have to repeat themselves numerous times before their child eventually follows their instructions.  Often we call to our child from another room in the home and despite the fact they are engrossed in something else, expect them to have heard us.  Or we walk in the room, say something, walk out again  and are then surprised that whatever we asked for hasn’t happened.

I once asked a nine year old girl why she didn’t listen when her mother asked her to do something.  She replied “I have worked out that my mum usually asks me 7 or 8 times before she shouts so I have plenty of time until she gets really annoyed!!”  When children are used to parents nagging, repeating and reminding, they have no incentive to listen the first time.

3 step approach to giving instructions

1. Engage

Stop what you are doing, go over to your child and make sure you have their attention.   You can do this by descriptively praising something they are doing.  Once you have eye contact you can say something like, “Thanks for looking at me, now I know you are listening.”

2. Give the instruction

The absolute key here is to only say it once.  Use clear, simple and direct language. Not would you like to or shall we….?  Sometimes you can even ask your child to repeat what you just said so you are sure that they heard.

3. Follow through

Remain in the room with your child and wait in their space.  Stay calm and friendly but being there shows you expect them to comply.  Notice any tiny step in the right direction and descriptively praise them.  Also empathise that what you are asking may not be easy for them or may not be something they feel like doing.  Nothing else that the child wants will happen until he/she has done what was asked.

This approach may sound long winded and time consuming but so is repeating yourself 10 times and eventually losing your patience.  Children simply zone out when parents nag or say the same thing over and over again.  This approach indicates that you mean business.  When you give an instruction you need to ensure that you have the time and patience to follow through, if not you are losing your authority.  Once your child is in good habits and used to this approach, you will find that most of the time, your instruction is carried out by step 2.