How To Give Kids Effective Commands

Do your kids follow your directions? Listen attentively when you ask them to do something?  Obey all the commands you give them?  Mine either!

Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to myself when I give them an instruction.  But there are a lot of strategies we can use to get our children to comply with our requests.  Try implementing a handful of these tips consistently, and you’ll see an improvement in no time:

Look your child in the eye when you’re giving them a direction.  Just like us, our kids sometimes are so engrossed with the computer, a book, a video game, or a television show that they might not listen to us fully when we interrupt them.  Call your child’s name and make sure that you have their attention when you issue your command.  One of the best ways to guarantee that is to make eye contact.  And by the way, this works with husbands too!

Ask your child to repeat the instruction back to you.  If you want to make sure that they heard what you said to them, ask them to repeat it.  If you said, “Take out the trash” and they repeat back to you “Give me some cash” then you’ve not communicated your message too well now have you?  Also, just the act of saying the direction out loud will help them remember it (rather than getting distracted and forgetting along the way).

Break your instructions down into simple one-step actions.  Instead of saying “Clean your room,” try saying “Make your bed” or “Put your toys in your toy box.”  You might end up having to issue more commands by breaking your instructions down in this way, but your child will be more successful in accomplishing the goals you put forth for them.

Be specific about what you want your child to do.  Sometimes our kids don’t listen to us because they don’t know what action is required by our words.  So instead of saying “Mommy is having a mental breakdown” try saying “Play quietly in your room.”  Be as specific as possible with what you expect of them so they’ll have a better chance of knowing exactly what you want them to do.

Phrase your command as a statement, not a question.  If you expect your child to do something, then you need to state it as a fact.  You don’t have to be to stern, but in a matter of fact voice, state what you expect them to do.  For instance, if you ask them “Will you unload the dishwasher,” then they might just say no!  If given the choice, who wouldn’t say no?  Instead, simply state “Unload the dishwasher.”

Don’t use the word “let’s” in your directions.  If you say “Let’s brush your teeth,” then that sounds like you and your child are about to go brush their teeth.  Like you, the parent, are actually going to be involved in the tooth brushing process.  Now if you have a toddler that’s one thing, but if your child is capable of brushing their teeth on their own, then you would be better off saying “Go brush your teeth” and then let them complete the task independently.

Remember that you are not obligated to give a rationale for your commands.   Moms more than dads have a hard time with this one.  When you are giving your child an instruction, just present it to them simply.  You do not have to provide a dissertation of evidence as to why what you’re asking is reasonable.  Just give your instruction and let them follow it.  When you try to provide reasoning, more than likely you’ll just end up distracting them from what they were supposed to be doing in the first place.  For example, if you say “Make your bed,” then your child will probably make their bed.  If you say “Make your bed because we’re going to the movie, and I want your room to be clean before we leave so that when we get home we don’t have any chores left to finish,” then you lost them way back at “movie.”  I can just about promise that they will have forgotten the original request to make their bed!

Tell them what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.  This one is tough for me, and I bet it might be for you too!  I find myself all the time saying “Don’t fight with your sister.”  Giving instructions though is all about telling them what to do, not what NOT to do.  So instead of my typical don’t, try saying “Play Candyland with your sister.”

Be prepared to follow through if they don’t comply.  Whenever you give an instruction or command, you need to be ready to follow up immediately and make sure that your child is complying.   If they don’t comply within a reasonable amount of time, be prepared to issue the instruction again with a warning of the consequence for noncompliance.

Praise.  When they do comply with your command, be sure to give them verbal praise.  You can say something like, “Great job picking up your Legos” or “Thanks for helping sort the laundry.”  You don’t have to go over the top or anything with fireworks or cash, but it’s important to acknowledge that you know that they completed the task and that you are proud of them for doing so.


    • Polly says

      I agree! Even with grown ups we forget the importance of making eye contact! Thanks for your comment. Have a great weekend.

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