Children are much more likely to follow through on your expectations when your requests are stated clearly. Actually, we all are more likely to follow through on expectations that are clearly stated. Here are some thoughts about being clear:

  • Watch your timing. Most of our expectations and directives are not emergencies, so it is important to consider what is going on in your child’s life at the moment you want to state an expectation. If you decide you need to give a directive while your child is immersed in an art activity or making plans to get to school, the interruption does not invite compliance. Being interrupted in the midst of an activity is hard for all of us. When children are in the middle of something, respect the importance the activity holds for them, and give them some lead time in order to show your respect: “When you are done with your painting, please feed the dog.”
  • Give choices whenever you can. We all feel a stronger sense of control when we have choices, and the result most often is a tendency to respond positively. An example is “Would you rather brush your teeth or take your bath first tonight?” You are still planning to accomplish both of these activities, but you are giving your child a choice in the matter too. Other choices might include chores, such as whether a child would like to set the table before dinner or clear the table after the meal. The more often you can give your child a choice when you give directions, the more likely he or she will comply.
  • Get your child’s attention before you give your directive. When you want your child to get something done, get down to his or her eye level, look your child in the eye, ask him or her to look at you, and then state your expectation. It can also help to gently touch your child as you talk. If your child responds well to humor, tap in to that strength. Use a funny voice or a prop to make an announcement.
  • Eliminate distractions. We all have a hard time focusing on directions that are given while we are distracted by an activity or noise in the room. Find a space and time that allows your child to focus on your stated expectation. An obvious example would be to turn off the TV before stating an expectation.
  • Keep your directions brief. Directions work best if they are short and sweet, clear and concrete. For young children, that means one direction at a time. For children eight and older, two or three stated expectations at one time are plenty. Eye contact emphasizes importance, and you need to state when you expect the direction to be followed. Try to avoid a long discussion, but do offer a brief explanation so children understand the reasoning behind your request. Make your request a statement rather than a question, unless you are willing to accept a “no thanks” or some form of negotiation.
  • Ask your child to repeat your directions back to you. Then you will know whether he or she heard you.
  • Give directions on paper sometimes. Write a direction on a sticky note, or for young children, put a meaningful icon on a sticky note. After they have completed the task, children can enjoy throwing away the reminder.