Saying “please” when you want someone to do something is good manners. However, to say “please” to a child when he has no choice but to obey is not a clear and concise directive and the child will not often readily comply.
Parents today may be too concerned with having their children avoid unhappiness by making life as easy as possible. This does not prepare children for the future, or even for current everyday experiences. Children like limits because they know what to expect and offer a sense of security. They can operate in this sensible environment freely with the understanding they are being cared for. Children appreciate and feel more secure with parents who are confident and firm. They are happier and ready to respond to parental instructions when parents have clear expectations and limits.
Commands formed into questions are not direct and clear and appear to give the child a choice to respond or not to respond when there is really no choice. It is much more respectful of the child to give clear directives. For example:
“Are you ready to come for dinner?”
“Please pick up your toys.”
“It’s time to go, OK?”
“Are you ready for bed?”
“Come to dinner.”
“Pick up your toys.”
“It’s time to go.”
Here are a few other suggestions for communicating with your child:
- To avoid battles at bedtime, have your child choose two books to be read. This makes going to bed a happy time.
- “We are going out to eat and we want you to be “nice”. “Nice” is vague and does not tell the child what you expect. Give clear expectations, “We are going out to eat in a restaurant. At the restaurant stay in your chair and talk quietly.”
- “How many times have I told you not to run?” Parental whining and nagging will encourage children to stop listening. A directive implying disgust is degrading and unacceptable. Instead, “Remember to walk in the store” gives a clear message in a positive way.
- Having trouble making a child stop doing something you have told him not to do? Use one word, “STOP!” or “NO!” This is more effective and clear than a lengthy lecture.
- “If you come now we will get an ice cream later.” Bribing children lessens the respect they have for authority. A better approach is to say, “It’s time to go, get your coat.”
- When and then statements are very effective as well. “We have an hour to do something fun. When you clean up your toys, we will go to the park.” There is no need to nag until the toys are cleaned up. If it takes so long that you run out of time for the park simply state that. “Our hour is up so we don’t have time left for the park today. Maybe we can go tomorrow.”
- “Please eat your vegetables.” Many children are very picky about foods. This is an age-old problem and it doesn’t make sense to worry about how little a child eats as long as your doctor is not concerned. If healthy food is introduced, you have no junk foods around, and there are no other options, the child will eventually eat what is offered. Hunger is a good motivator. Certainly, it isn’t worth a nagging session during a meal.
Children bring much pleasure to the family and to the world. Real effort should be made studying successful ways to communicate. There need not be a continuing struggle in the family. Presenting children with realistic expectations and clear limits will ensure that your time together is filled with joy.
By Edith K. Overholser, Owner