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Reinforce compliance in children

Published 5:15pm Saturday, August 17, 2013

QUESTION: I need help! My children are not doing what I’m asking them to do.

RESPONSE: There are several basic obstacles that interfere with getting compliance from our children. Choose two or three that you want to improve upon and post them somewhere where you can see them easily.

The use of questions instead of direct requests reduces compliance. “Would you please stop teasing?” is less effective than “I need you to stop teasing.”

It is better to make a request from up close than from longer distances. Recall how you receive messages or requests from far away or when someone is hollering at you.

Look into your child’s eyes or ask them to look at you, rather than not make eye contact. Use the phrase, “I’ll wait until you’re ready to look at me.” If we’re patient and calm, children are more likely to pay attention. It is helpful to follow up with an affirmation for our child’s focused attention: “Thank you for listening carefully.”

Do not give many different requests rapidly. “Please take your lunch, remember your homework and boots, and mind your own business on the bus.”

It is better to make a request in a strong, firm voice than with a loud voice. Yelling or being sarcastic only encourages the same response from children.

It is a good idea to give children time (3-5 seconds) to comply after giving a request. During this short interval, do not converse with your child, respond to his/her objections, restate the request or make a different request. Simply look your child in the eye, without frowing, and wait for compliance.

Give your request no more than three times. Any more talk with no action leads to manipulation.

We need to control our own negative emotions when we are making a request. Emotional responses (yelling, name-calling, guilt-inducing statements and roughly handling a child) decrease compliance and make the situation worse.

Requests that are positive and specific are better than those that are vague. “Please use your fork.” is better than “Mind your manners,” or “Don’t eat with your fingers.”

It is easy to request a behavior from a child and then ignore the positive result. If we want more compliance, we need to genuinely reinforce it. Behavior that is recognized will be repeated!

 To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child-raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 1-877-434-9528. For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599. Check out

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