Five Rules for Giving Instructions that Children Will Obey

Written by Jacquelyn Blocher

Previous blog posts have addressed several strategies to decrease your child’s problem behaviors, from being consistent with discipline (link) to the power of praise and attending to positive behaviors (links). Learning to give attention to the behaviors you like and minimizing attention for behaviors you don’t like can solve most of your child’s minor behavioral problems. There are some instances though when you need to tell your child to do something that cannot be ignored.

All too often though, many parents find themselves at a bit of a loss for how to best tell their child to do something that really needs to be done. The same instructions are repeated more than once. Negotiating or bending the previously enforced rules becomes the norm. Frustrations increase as children whine, stall, or plead in response to parental commands or limit setting.

So why has giving effective directions to your child become something that is so challenging? Often, parents and their children have fallen into a pattern in which their words no longer carry the same meaning they were intended to have. This happens when a parent does not consistently follow through on what he or she says, and over time the child learns that he does not always have to do what he is told. Bottom line, as with other parenting techniques, consistency is crucial. If you say it, mean it, and show your child you mean it by always following through. If you don’t have time to be consistent or follow through, avoid giving instructions, and in turn avoid teaching your child that they do not have to do what you say.

Are you ready to consistently follow through on your instructions? To increase the likelihood that your child will do what you tell him to, follow these five rules below. While they may seem simple, it takes practice and consistency for them to work effectively.

  1. Your statement of instruction should make it clear that your child is being told to do something, and she/he is the one expected to do it. For example, imagine that you have just finished coloring pictures with your daughter. She needs to put away the crayons from the table so there is room for you and your family to eat dinner. An effective command in this situation would be, “Sarah, please put the crayons back in the drawer.” This is a direct statement in which you told her exactly what you expected her to do. Avoid instructions that ask a child to do something like, “Could you please out the crayons back in the drawer now?” Additionally, stay away from directions that make it unclear who is expected to perform the action such as, “Let’s put the crayons back in the drawer,” or “We’re going to put the crayons away now.” In these statements, it is unclear if the task will be a joint effort between you and the child. Also, instructions that begin with question words or words like “let’s” or “we” imply a suggestion or choice rather than something that is non-negotiable.
  1. Make your command positively-stated and specific. Make sure your command tells your child what to do, and avoid telling them what not to do. If you give an instruction by telling her what you don’t want, how does she know what you are expecting her to do? Going back to the crayon example, I did not say, “Please, stop coloring” or “Don’t color anymore pictures.” Negative statements can lower your child’s self-esteem, and also increase negativity in your parent-child relationship. Additionally, do you want your child to just stop coloring? No, you want her to clean up and get ready for dinner. Think about what it is that you want your child to Be specific and positive in your phrasing.
  1. Only tell your child to do one thing at a time. When you give instructions that have multiple parts, and a child only obeys a portion of what you tell her, it is hard to know if the child forgot or if she is deliberately disobeying. To prevent this problem, give only one instruction at a time. If you want your child to put away the crayons and then set the table, first give one command about the crayons. Then, after she obeys, give a second command about putting the silverware on the table. This way you’ll avoid having to deliberate about how to follow through if your child only does part of your two-part command.
  1. Give your command in a normal, neutral tone of voice. Teach your child that all commands are expected to be followed. By teaching your child that polite commands are optional or can be ignored, you will stay away from teaching her only to obey instructions when you use raise your voice. Further, instructions given in an angry tone lead to unpleasant interactions. Keep in mind that as your emotions rise, it becomes more difficult to think and act clearly, which can lead to less consistency and ultimately ineffective commands.
  1. After you give a command, avoid speaking and watch and wait. Be ready to give a warning and to then follow up with a consequence. If you give a command and don’t watch and wait for it to be completed, you are essentially telling your child that you do not expect it to be done. If after some waiting, the child doesn’t obey, reinforce your command by giving a warning “If you do not put the crayons in the drawer, then you will not be able to play with them tomorrow,” or “If you do not put the crayons in the drawer, then you will not get dessert tonight.” After the warning, watch and wait once more. Then, follow through with your consequence if your child does not do what you told her to do. Avoid saying anything else, including answering questions or negotiating, until after your child has obeyed or the consequence has been delivered. Say your warnings and consequences with as few words as possible. If you give into negotiating or changing your consequence, you have taught your child that you do not mean what you say. You have also started the cycle of making your commands less effective.

Consistency is key to teach your child to obey your commands. Remember, once you say an instruction, show your child you mean it by following through!

Making New Years Resolutions Work

Written by Ariel Campbell

For many of us, entering into the New Year can bring about thoughts of change. It can be a time of retrospection when we reflect on our life choices and consider improvements we would like to make. It’s probably the case that most of us, at one time or another, have set a New Year’s resolution aimed at bettering ourselves in some way. However, it’s probably also the case that most of us have experienced that initial sense of eager excitement and commitment gradually fizzle out into something more like a faint suggestion.

Despite our best intentions, making lasting changes in behavior can be hard. Luckily there are a number of strategies that can help us increase the likelihood of staying on track and achieving our goals. Whether it’s losing weight, improving an important relationship, or finally getting around to writing that novel these tips can help you make positive changes that last through 2017 and beyond.

The first step towards change is choosing appropriate goals. While we likely all have various areas of self-improvement that we could target, attempting to work on multiple areas simultaneously can be an overly ambitious undertaking. Focusing all of your energy for change towards one goal at a time will boost the odds in your favor. Additionally, aim to choose positive rather than negative goals. Positive goals are new patterns that you would like to see whereas negative goals involve current habits that you want to stop. It’s much easier to learn new habits than to unlearn old ones.

When setting goals, remember the acronym SMART to increase your chances of meeting your objectives. Setting Specific goals means being very clear and precise about what you want to achieve. If you’re working towards a long-term goal, breaking it down into smaller, clearly defined steps will help you to get started and stay on track more easily. Choose Measurable goals in order to track your progress. For example, if you want to find a new job choose to send out five applications per week. Make sure to set goals that are Achievable, or in other words goals that are in line with your abilities. Additionally, it is important to be sure that your goals are Realistic. Select a goal that is not only in line with your resources, but also with your larger life priorities and obligations. And finally, set Timely goals, meaning goals with a clear time frame and end date.

Now that you’ve set attainable goals, you’re ready to start working towards them. Making real changes in behavior is hard but following a few principles can help tip the scales in your direction. As you set out on each new step, consider any obstacles that may get in the way of reaching your goal. It’s impossible to anticipate all possible challenges, but predicting the most likely obstacles you might face and making a plan for how to manage them ahead of time will help to keep you on track. Repeating new behaviors is also key to achieving lasting change. With repetition, new patterns will begin to feel habitual. Once they do, you can tack on the next step in your plan and promote continued progress.

Another important tip to keep you moving in the right direction is to approach setbacks with the right mindset. It’s inevitable that old habits will creep in from time throughout the change process. Therefore, expecting setbacks and being kind to yourself when they do occur will help you to reflect on the things you could have done differently so that you’re better equipped to deal with future challenges. While being armed with the tools discussed so far will maximize your chances of making meaningful and sustainable changes, incorporating a few additional strategies that target your environment should make you unstoppable on the path towards achieving your goals.

One of the main reasons that it’s so hard to change our behavior is the fact that our surroundings are filled with cues that signal old habits. Embedding environmental cues that prompt new behaviors, like visible reminders or attention-drawing changes, can be extremely helpful in promoting change. Including significant others in efforts to change is also a valuable tool. Involving others can mean sharing your goals and progress with friends and family, paring up with someone who’s pursuing similar goals and can help to keep you motivated and on track, or joining a support group where you can share your struggles and successes and find encouragement. Whatever your goals may be, these strategies can help you to achieve them. Equipping yourself with these powerful tools will help you to effect and maintain the positive changes you want to see.

It’s the Most Loneliest Time of the Year

Written by Yoni Sobin

This time yearly, society blasts us with holiday music, jingles, lights, and festivities as individuals of all backgrounds celebrate holidays both secular and religious. We’re told this is a time for family, coming together, and celebration. We’re supposed to feel happy, joyful, and full of light. For many, this is their reaction to the holiday season. People talk about gathering for family dinners, “going home for the holidays,” and Aunt Mildred’s comments that elicit humorous glances among siblings.

For others, however, the holidays embody a more uncomfortable and emotion – loneliness. Not everyone has strong family ties, family that lives nearby. Not everyone can afford buying gifts without financial strain and not everyone is reminded of pleasant holiday memories. For some, family causes much distress, especially when we are around them for extended periods of time.

To make matters worse, moods often shift as the weather gets colder and many individuals experience a variation of Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal fluctuation pattern. Cold makes people less likely to leave their homes, and also makes people less likely to exercise, which would improve depression. Individuals may also socialize less with friends and family, adding to one’s loneliness.

Loneliness is not inconsequential. It can lead to depression, reduced quality of life, (ironically) social isolation, and even increased mortality risk! By nature, humans are social beings, and we yearn for connection. Socially isolated individuals are therefore at a higher risk for suicide, especially individuals of geriatric age.

Thus, as we hunker down for the cold months ahead, it’s important to keep regular social connections. We need to push ourselves extra to get through the rough patch of the year called winter. Rather than choosing to isolate, to disengage in the comfort of our warm, toasty homes, let’s make an extra effort to remain connected. Pick a night in the future and invite people over for a game night. Create a “social checklist” for yourself, and each day tick something off that list. Even the smallest of gestures can improve one’s quality of life, such as smiling at someone on the subway during your ride each day to work, wishing the person behind the check-out counter a “Happy Holidays”, or saying “Shabbat Shalom” someone at your local synagogue. You can also check out www.meetup.com, a website to facilitate social interaction based on shared interests. Enjoy reading? There a group for that. Knitting? There’s a group for that too. Comic books? Yup. They’ve got that. Scrabble, Cards Against Humanity, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jewish, Muslim. You name it, there’s a group of like-minded people out there. Other opportunities might present themselves in the form of adult education classes to learn about painting or writing or something else. All of these basic social activities not only promote interaction and reduce loneliness, but they help us to hone skills and we feel accomplished and more confident. Parent/toddler groups can also provide social opportunities for single or stay-at-home parents. Getting a massage or a visit to the doctor’s office can relieve some loneliness by providing interactions which, though in some ways superficial, allow for opportunities to meet others. Even the internet can help reduce loneliness and boredom. How else would you have found this blog post?

On a community level, we can also reach out to those individuals to increase the chances to socializing with peers. If you know someone who you suspect might be struggling with loneliness, invite them over to your apartment or house for a warm cup of tea, coffee, or cocoa. Be active rather than passive, and don’t expect those who may be struggling with season depression to ask for help. Ask your friends and neighbors how they are doing, building your own social connections further.

For some individuals though, loneliness and sadness have become so much the norm that it’s a struggle to do these things on their own. In such cases, asking for help from a professional is the best way to help yourself. Particularly if you struggle with thoughts related to harming yourself or worse – while these thoughts are normal, especially if you feel alone, it’s a sign that it’s time to ask for help.