Getting your children to do what you want

Justin, age 10, was sitting watching his favorite Saturday morning program.  Dad was repairing the garage step and mom was vacuuming.   About nine o’clock, Mom came to Justin and said, “Time to clean your room.”  Justin continued to watch television.  Mom repeated, “Justin, it’s time to clean your room.  Do you hear me?”  “Uh huh” was the reply.  Still he sat and watched his program.  “Justin!” Mom was more emphatic this time.  “Go and clean your room.”  To which Justin replied, “Oh, Mom, I will,” sounding more defensive now, “I’ll do it after my show is over.”  Mom sighed and continued to vacuum. 

Thirty minutes later Mom returned.  Justin was now on to another television program.  “Justin” she said angrily, “didn’t you hear me, I told you earlier to clean your room. You said you’d do it after your television program and now you’re watching something else.  Go clean your room, right now!”  Justin flared in anger.  “Mom, I don’t want to clean my room, I want to watch television, don’t bug me, I said I’d do it later.”  “You’ll do it now,” said Mom, reaching out to grab him.  “And, another thing, don’t talk back to me young man.  You’re grounded and no more television for you the rest of the day.”  At this, Justin said, “I hate you” and ran to his room slamming the door.  Mom fumed, Dad came in asking what all of the yelling was about and Justin pouted in his room.

Scenes like this are repeated in families everywhere.  While common, these scenes are unnecessary.  The issue for parents; how do you engage children to do what you direct them to do?  Specific steps can be taken to prevent the situation ending as this one did.  First, a decision.  Is what the parent saying optional or not?  If you are talking over something the child is deciding, then the issue of parent concern may be optional for the child.  If what you are talking to them about is not optional but mandatory, then you must act in support of what you say needs to happen.  Children believe actions more than words.

Approach the child, state your directive once.  If the child, as in this case, doesn’t respond; turn off the television, and in a calm secure voice with positive eye contact, guide him to his room, very specifically say what you want done to the room, including where you want each object placed.  Check back periodically, make certain work is continuing and celebrate the completed task.  If the child has a tantrum, put him or her in time out until their emotions settle down, then follow the above procedure.  Keep your emotional reaction out of the experience.  It’s not your problem, it’s the child’s.  Parents must remain more calm and secure than the child is capable of having a problem. You’ll be amazed at how this process reduces your child’s resistant ways.

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