Cincinnati Family Magazine

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January 28, 2023

Effective Commands

“The first step in getting compliance is to ‘BE DIRECT’ with your child. Being direct helps your child understand exactly how you expect him or her to behave.” Urquiza, A., Zebell, N., Timmer,S., McGrath, J., & Whitten, L. (2011)

An easy way to increase compliance is to monitor the way you give directions to your children. Psychologists have shown that 90 percent of the message we are trying to convey is communicated through non verbals (tone of voice, eye contact, hand gestures, body language, and overall attention) and only ten percent of it is verbal. Two people can say the exact same thing, but one can say it loudly and with their arms crossed and the other can say it softly with their arms relaxed and by their sides … which one would you respond to better?

The number one way we build relationships and connect with others is through communication. If we want a child to do something/stop doing something the best way is to tell them what to do, as in, state it as a command versus a question and monitor our non-verbal cues. Think about it … how are you saying what you want to say? “Are you ready for bed?” implies that there is a choice on bed time. “Do you want to brush your teeth?” implies that your kiddo can choose not to brush or tell you “ No!” Instead, try being direct and saying, “It is time for bed.” And “You need to brush your teeth.” Both of these specifically tell your child what they need to do. My favorite … when my husband asks my kids if they are ready to take a bath. Ha! What do you think their response is? Giving options is great, but you should only state things as a question if there are options involved. If it is not an option remember to state it as a direction/command.

Effective Commands Do’s and Don’ts:

  • Do be direct (statements/commands) and don’t use questions (unless there is an option!)
  • Be specific – “Keep your feet on the floor” versus “Behave at school” (this vague statement can be interpreted many different ways.)
  • Give one instruction at a time
  • Make eye contact before giving direction
  • Do state what the child should do. Don’t state what they shouldn’t be doing. “Stop throwing your toys” is not likely to reduce the behavior – especially if they are attention seeking. Avoid the words: stop, no, don’t, quit, or not as they may increase exactly what you don’t want your child to do.
  • Keep a calm, neutral, and quiet tone of voice. Raising your voice/yelling can be stressful for everyone and can escalate the situation.

Stay consistent and remember to provide positive praise for compliance. When kids do not comply, remain calm (deep breathing helps!) and restate the direction. If they still are not complying, then you must follow through with a set consequence.

About the Author

Tina Pratt

Tina Pratt is the mom of two littles. She is a former PreK- 5 special education teacher that now works as a behavior coach. She enjoys being a tourist in her own town and finding ways to embed lessons into everyday fun!