Consequences Series – What? When? How? Part 3 Giving Instructions

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If you are new to this series of posts on consequences, please read through the introduction and part 2 first.

So you have layed a solid foundation of strong parenting practise and have made some headway to identifying the root cause(s) of your child’s problem areas. Before we take the leap to the consequences themselves, we need to take another look at ourselves. Yep, parenting is a lot about us, not just the children! This next step is to give instructions to our children correctly. It may seem very simple to just bark out orders and expect obedience, but there are things you can do to get a much higher level of obedience from your children simply by changing your approach. Have you ever been guilty of any of the following?

  • Giving an instruction that you are too tired to check up on and hoping your child will follow through.
  • Shouting instructions at rapidly retreating children’s backs as they tear off on their own pursuits.
  • Instructing a child while you are peering distractedly into the refrigerator, balancing morning tea in one hand and holding a spoon between your lips.
  • Directing instructions to a room full of children who are eating/playing or otherwise engaged that sound something like this – “Everyone, get you shoes, coats, hats, drink bottles, go to the toilet, pack your bag, make your bed, finish your morning jobs, find matching socks and be at the door in 5 minutes.”
  • Arriving home after everyone’s bed time and telling everyone to “Get ready for bed” as you walk in the door.

Perhaps these scenarios do not happen in your home but giving instructions across a crowded room or to an otherwise engaged child is just too easy to do and when we don’t get the obedience we are looking for we get angry, frustrated and disappointed in the child. Time to make some changes. Before you start work, you need to have a clear understanding for yourself of what obedience looks like. We teach our children that obedience is first time, straight away, with a happy attitude and a verbal response. (“Yes, Mum.”).

Step 1 Get hold of a “First Time Obedience” chart. It is a brilliant resource by Carla and Joey Link for teaching parents how to get first time obedience with their children.  It lays out all the steps in detail and tells you which behaviours to work on now, which ones to ignore for now and what the next step is. I thought I understood first time obedience until I listened to Carla’s talk Understanding First Time Obedience in her Mom’s Notes series but she really cleared it up for me. (It’s only $4.99 to download or get it if you are in the USA with the message, notes and chart for $12. In Australia, the charts are available here for $5 plus postage and download the MP3 message to go with it.) Her audio resources are gold and I cannot recommend them highly enough. (No, I don’t get a commission!)

Step 2 Train your child to come when you call their name, answering “Yes Mum, I’m coming” as they do in fact come. It’s a very simple step but if you want compliance you need to get attention first. A child who will not come when you call them is not likely to obey an instruction you give them either. To get this started we like to institute treat training. I gather everyone around me and tell them that we are going to play a game. I tell them that they all need to go to different parts of the house and when I call their names, they should answer with “Yes Mum, I’m coming” and come running back to me. I let them know that when they do come, I will have a little surprise for them. (Do it) Once everyone is back and all have their surprise, tell them you are going to do it again.

At this point they can’t believe how easy it is to get the reward! (Do it again.) Now instruct the children to go back to whatever it was you had them doing before and keep an ear out. Some time soon you will call their name and they need to answer with those same words and come. Leave it a short time and then repeat. Over the course of the day, repeat this procedure several times until everyone is coming running the second they hear you speak. You will be surprise to see how amazing their hearing is from even the furthest corner of the back garden to the back bedroom when you barely speak above a whisper. I even had children calling out “Yes Mum. I’m coming” when no names had been called or coming when someone else’s name had been called “Just in case you said mine and I missed it!”

The following morning start off the day with 1 repeat of the same scenario to remind them of how it worked. From this point onwards you can explain that there will be no more rewards, or perhaps only occasional rewards but they still need to come when you call and answer “Yes Mum I’m coming.” For those who are wondering, yes, this is a bribe but a useful one a short lived for training purposes. As a general rule, I am not characterised by bribing my children for obedience so the occasional instance that I decide to employ one is useful and effective. See this post for the difference between bribes, rewards and incentives and why you shouldn’t bribe your child.

If they refuse to come then a consequences will be necessary. For little ones, a few minutes sitting in their cots to get ready to obey, followed by putting them back where they were when you called and saying “Let’s try again” as you call their name will probably be enough. Older children may need some further encouragement but ideas for this will have to wait until we get further into the consequences side of this series!  

Step 3 Get eye contact. Holding a young child’s hand while you do this may help them. Instruct them to look at Mummy’s eyes or “look at Mummy’s face” and wait until they do so. There is a big difference between a child who struggles with eye contact – that is it is difficult for them to do – and a child who won’t make eye contact. The former is disobedience and the first is developmental. How do you tell the difference? Choose a short phrase like “Eyes” and simply prompt the child to look every time they look away. If you say “Eyes” and they look back at your eyes immediately then they have an obedient attitude and will get better in time. A child who deliberately turns their eyes away from you when instructed to look in you face is telling you that they have no intention of obeying your instruction and you may as well deal with the disobedience then and there rather than waiting for them to not follow the instruction you are about to give and then give a consequence.

One caveat with this is that children with processing disorders and other problems will find it almost impossible to hold their body still and focus their eyes on you. When they do, all of their energy is poured into doing this and there is no attention left to actually hear the instruction! The purpose of getting eye contact before speaking is to get the child’s attention. If you know that you have it, regardless of whether they are looking or not then you can go ahead. Just make sure this truly is something they are unable to do, rather something they choose not to do. Sometimes asking them to look at your chest will help.

Step 4 Give the instruction. Keep it simple for little ones. Give the number of steps your child can cope with. For some children, one thing at a time is enough. They may need to be told to “Get your drink bottle and come back to Mummy.” An older child may cope with a series of instructions, particularly if they are familiar to them. Some children may prefer a written list if there is a lot to get through. I sometimes jot a list on my whiteboard and instruct the older children to work their way through it before returning to me to let me know there are done.

Step 5 Have them respond with “Yes, Mum” after you give the instruction. Hearing themselves agree to obey is often enough to help a child follow through with obedience. Often a child who does not want to obey will refuse to say “Yes, Mum” and again, you deal with the disobedience then and there rather than after they fail to obey. A good strategy for children who struggle to follow through with instructions is to require them to repeat back to you what they are going to do. “Yes, Mum, I will get my drink bottle.” There is no way they can say they did not hear, did not understand or forgot. It’s clear-cut obedience or disobedience – so much easier to deal with.

This is a very simplified overview of the whole process. There is a lot of supporting “if, buts and maybe’s” that should be included, but that’s why there is a whole parenting course on this. (See the introduction post)

Involved? Yes! Time consuming? Yes! Effective? Yes!!

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4 Responses

  1. Great tips and advice, thank you! I am wondering, once you train the children to obey first time and come when you call them etc. Does the baby and any future children pick up on these behaviours automatically, or do you need to go through training them each time?

    • Hi Kath. The younger children definitely pick up a lot of what the older children do and as a general rule behaviours (both good and bad!) will “wash” down from the top. I do find with first time obedience, responding with “Yes, Mum I’m coming” and the like, it is necessary every little while to do some retraining with everyone. Good behaviour tends to go in cycles – I keep on top of training, things go well, so I relax and the slow slide happens… I pick back up on training and behaviour comes back up to where I want it to be. Unfortunately “getting” obedience for a time doesn’t mean you will keep it, it’s an ongoing process. The actually teaching of behaviours for the first time to the younger children is very easy as they have seen it from their older siblings and already know the expectations.

  2. great posts!! im learning so much from what you share!! something i find difficult is knowing what an appropriate consequence is for a child who doesnt obey? i have a 1, 3 and 5yo and my 5yo in particular is very strong-willed and i so want him to learn true obedience but i find it hard knowing what to expect of him, and how to chastise him if hes not being obedient…

    • H Emma, where are you located? The parenting courses from Growing Families are brilliant and will give you the tools you need to train your children in obedience and so many other areas. I can connect you with your local coordinator if you like or recommend some reading material that will give you a good start. Perhaps email me if you are interested angpascoe@iinet.net.au

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