Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Conari Press an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser,
RAISING COOPERATIVE KIDS by Marion Forgatch PhD, Gerald Patterson PhD, and Tim
Friend is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at
www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087.
Parents have different ways to get their children to comply. Many involve coercion, which essentially involves the use of psychological and even physical force to accomplish a goal. “You will do what I say or else! “Stress in our personal lives and in the workplace often ignites our use of coercion. Moreover, for better or worse, we tend to follow examples set by our own parents. If coercion reigned supreme in your family as you were growing up, you may find yourself using it with your own children and also your spouse or partner.
At one end of the spectrum, we’ve seen parents who command their children like boot-camp sergeants. They may resort to threats or, in extreme cases, even violence. At the other end, we have watched parents, determined not to follow in their authoritarian parents’ footsteps, plead with their children over something as simple as coming to dinner or shutting the door quietly. Neither approach is effective, as you may have discovered already. Commanding, debating, or pleading with children does not teach cooperation. What we have learned from watching parents and their children is that the most efficient approach is to give the child a clear, concise direction in a polite, emotionally neutral, tone. It sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it? It is not.
We have developed a set of strategies for giving clear and effective directions that encourage cooperation. Here are our basic strategies.
Basic Strategies for Giving Clear Directions
Use good timing.
Get physically close.
Make contact (eye contact and/or physical contact).
Use a pleasant tone of voice and facial expression.
Give one direction at a time.
Make a statement—don’t ask.
Say what to do.
Use the child’s name.
Use the words “please” and “now.”
Say: “Name, do (behavior) now, please.” (e.g., “Isabelle, come to the table, now please”). Use few words.
Start with behaviors that take less than two minutes
Stand and hold silently (with a neutral to positive expression).
This last point, stand and hold, requires that you remain close to your child after you deliver your direction and wait silently for their response. Parents say this is hard to do, especially maintaining a neutral facial expression while silently waiting. Try it and you will see how powerful your quiet presence can be. If you deliver your direction and walk away, you send the message that you may not expect immediate compliance.
Integrating these elements into the directions you give your children can produce amazing results—at least at first. The reward for the parent is compliance. It will come as no surprise that children who learn to follow their parents’ directions at an early age also tend to be socially successful with peers, teachers, and others in the community.