Compliance.  The Holy Grail of Parenting.

When was the last time your child did what you asked right after you asked it?  Ahhh…compliance.  The holy grail of parenting.  If only I were easy to obtain!

After all, we think, it can’t be that difficult.  We have a clear picture in our mind of what we want our child to do and we expect them to do it.  And, of course our children are not just standing around doing nothing, waiting for our instructions however.  No, just like us, they are busy and engaged in their own activities and aims.

And here’s the rub…

Just like with us, there are times when they are doing something important that has their attention fully engaged. Your child may acknowledge your request, but they are so focused on what they are doing that they may forget or ignore something that you asked of them.

So, here are some tips to do before you let frustration get the better of you:

Kids over 5 years

  • Give your child a heads up that you will be asking them to do something different in a few minutes. 
    • 1st:  Ask your child to briefly look you in the eyes to be sure you have her full attention.
      • A gentle touch on the shoulder or the head really helps with this.  Then say:  Eyeballs please?
    • 2nd:  Make your request clear, short and specific.  “I would like you to…” or, “Will you please go do…”
    • 3rd:  Ask your child to repeat your request by saying “I hear you that you want me to…”
    • 4th:  Give them the CHOICE between completing your request right then, or in 5 minutes (knowing which one they will most likely choose.)
    • 5th:  When the 5 minutes is over, remind them of their choice.  

For younger children:

  • If the task is complex, like helping with dishes, or cleaning their room, break the task up into smaller pieces and offer to help.
    • Ask your child to put all his clean clothes away, and tell him you will watch.  (Lots of praise)
    • Next ask to please put all dirty clothes into the hamper, and then spin around.  (Lots of praise)
    • Next ask to please pick up all his books and put them back in the book shelves, and then jump around. (Lots of praise)

Start this kind of a process with your children when they are young. Then you can graduate to ask for completion of two steps, then come see you, followed by combining another two steps. Finally your child will be old enough, and accomplished enough that she can clean her room knowing all of the steps involved.

For any age:

Pointing out our child’s shortcomings can really hurt your relationship with them.  Children internalize criticism, so much to the degree that when they are adults, they tell themselves those same criticisms over and over again.  Criticism is SHAME, and is one of the dark horsemen of parenting (something to absolutely avoid.)

Therefore, complaining about your child’s previous lack of compliance in attempt to get your child to comply this time is a big parenting pitfall. Rather than this, simply ask:

  • Would you like to do this now, or in 5-10 minutes? (Set a timer.)
  • Praise and express positive emotion when each task is complete.  “Wow, I see how hard you’ve worked here!  It sure does feel good to have a clean dishwasher! I really like how you listen!!”

If your child fails to keep his end of the agreement, simply and whimsically call out “Uh oh…did you hear the timer?”  Or “Uh oh…you did not follow through, time to put the “activity” away for now.”  If your child responds in frustration, “Mom!  I just wanted to finish this!”  Empathize.  You might say something like “Oh, I see that your frustrated.  I know how that feels.  I feel frustrated also when agreements get broken.  Do you need a quick snuggle before completing what you’ve agreed to do?  Or would you like a few moments to put away your activity before doing what I’ve asked?”

If non-compliance persists in protest, simply repeat yourself.  “I hear that you’d like to finish your activity, and what did I just say?”

Depending on your child’s personality, they might not transition well.  When children struggle in this area, its important for parents to understand and demonstrate mercy.  You might tailor your requests to be completed after the activity time.  For older children, you might ask, what time is best for you to clean your room today?  Working together with children and their different wants/needs shows them that you value the connection you have with them.







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