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Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Repeating Yourself

So many parents wonder, Does parenting mean needing to either yell or repeat myself in order to get my child’s attention?

Here’s my question. Is it possible that your children perceive your repetitions as warnings, that we all know will lead to an ultimatum, rather than as instructions to stop right away?

Each parent, child and family is different. That means that no one scenario I describe will address exactly what’s going on in your house, but see if this one comes close:

A child does something wrong or annoying and Dad says, “Stop it!” Then Dad goes back to reading the newspaper. The child doesn’t stop. Mom chimes in and says, “Stop it now!” Then Mom goes back to making breakfast. The child still doesn’t stop.

The parents continue saying, “Stop it!” two or three more times, adding in dashes of “I mean it!” and “I’m not kidding!” And still, the child doesn’t stop.

Then, one parent uses the child’s full name: “Anthony James!”

Anthony seems to perk up, but still continues. He only stops when he hears: “Stop. It. Right. This. Minute. Anthony. James. Or. Else!”

Sound familiar?

What’s Your “Big Change”?

Each parent has a unique way of expressing, “I’m at the end of my rope.” Your child has lived with you long enough to observe your behavior in a way that you may not be aware of. In the scenario above, the child has experienced that there will be several requests to “stop it.” His cue that Mom is almost at the end of her rope only comes when she calls out his full name. And he knows that she means business when she uses his full name and adds, “Stop it right this minute.” Essentially, he’s waiting for her to do what she’s always done before he’ll listen: pull out the “big change.”

The “change” is different in every household. It could be when you use his full name or raise your voice. It could be when you begin to yell. The “change” could be that Mom has entered the room with an angry look on her face. Or it could be the threat of losing TV, the computer, or getting a timeout. No matter what your change is, your child has been trained by you to wait for it. He won’t listen to you until he has to.

Children look at your repeated requests to “stop it” far differently than you do. They think of them as single, random comments in a series. Parents, on the other hand, consider the repeated “stop it” as an extension of one single thought.

What can be done?

What if you moved your action point to the beginning of the situation instead of keeping it at the end?

You. Do. Not. Wait.

Most parents tend not to take action until they’re at the end of their rope. You want your children to listen to you the first time, but you’ve taught them that they don’t have to listen until the end.

The way to teach a child to listen the first time you say something is to show them, consistently, that you’ll take action the minute they don’t listen. So if your “change” is to put your child in timeout, do so as your first action, not as your last resort. If it’s to speak firmly, do that right away. You. Do. Not. Wait.

It’s true you’ll have to stop what you’re doing, get up and take action. But it won’t be forever.

Changing the timing of your action will have a profound affect on your child and will most likely change things almost immediately. Your firmness stands out because it is not clouded by yelling. This is a far better way to increase listening, allows you to remain calm, and is how you go from reacting to responding.

As with all parenting advice, you’re the one who knows your child best. There is no such thing as a “one method” that fits all children and all situations. Give this a try and see if it works.

Feel free to comment and let me know how this works for you. And if you have a topic you’d like to see addressed, put that in the comments too.

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31 Responses to “Getting Kids to Cooperate Without Repeating Yourself”

  1. Tricia Nightowlmama

    I just posted my frustrations on facebook with my kids not cleaning their room. I'm so tired of repeating myself. Most days I get action but the days I'm laxydazy about it they are too. Thanks for the PEP Talk. I'm getting on this right now.

  2. Cindi

    I have found that our children need consistency from both parents and that is what
    works the best in our home…..Time out, taking away favorite games, etc. seems to
    be the best methods. Great topic!

  3. Darlene Alexander

    Take the time to follow through when the situation demands it. It might be inconvenient at the time but will save you much time in the long run.

  4. Charity S

    I have to really stay on my son about chores. I'm not sure if he's being lazy, disrespectful, or he just doesn't want to do it.

  5. anna pry

    i find that it helps to use your body to get the message across. Get close, make eye contact, and dont be doing anything else when you speak to your child. That gets their attention.

  6. Judy Bradley

    I always said please stop and if it did not stop, I would tell them saying please was a courtesy and they knew they were in for it so they quit or I would immediately remove them from whatever the situation was. I wasn't going to let them turn me into a screaming shrew!.

  7. Donna F.

    This is definitely a challenge and I agree that no one method works for every child….it should be individualized to the child.

  8. Meagan

    Good incite! I use the one warning, then next a threat to take away something (not being able to watch TV/play a game/go to a friend's house for the rest of the day) or timeout and then executing the threat. I will try out your method!

  9. Clay Whittaker

    I will definately keep these in mind. We have this problem bad with our 4 children. Third time's a charm!

  10. Christina Oddy

    great tips, i struggle with this often. most the time, i'm just too tired to follow through.

  11. sharon silver

    Thank you for all the comments. Telling me what's important and valuable to you helps guide me to write more articles on those topics. Changing your timing is key in so many area's of parenting. You'll find clues about changing your timing in a lot of my work.

    Don't forget to use my website as a resource. There are articles, video's and radio shows that all include tips for you, as well as my book and coaching audios.

    I look forward to sharing more articles with you in the coming year.

  12. Christine

    I see how making the change the first time could work, but I also want to give my kids a chance to change their behavior before going to the final "straw."

  13. Bonnie Peeling

    I think you need to be consistant. If one warning is the rountine, then that is what they should always expect. Then they will know what is expected of them, and noone needs to lose their temper, or build to an ultimatum.

  14. KELLY

    Love this approach. I tend to do this more than my husband and it works. He will warn 5 times but our daughter knows that if I warn once there will be a consequence.

  15. @johnverse68

    well i think each child is different how they respond but you have to be steady and not waiver back and forth when setting expectations and ground rules i think, nice good topic to cover!!!

  16. Rebecca shockley

    You are so right on the time out deal, you must do it right away or it will be pretty useless. Yes, sometimes, parents actually have to get up off their butts or stop doing whatever is so important to make the child stand in that time out. My daughter depending on the day will scream about her time out right from the beginning, but she doesn't do it long, because I don't start the timeout until she has quieted down. I'm learning about what behavior to ignore, what behavior is attention seeking(which is most behavior) and what attention that has safety issues with the baby. Safety issue's I never back down because it has to do with either my daughter getting hurt or her hurting her little brother. Bottom line is be consistent, don't do the cry wolf game and get up and handle it rather then makinbg the ordeal longer, thanks for this great topic!!! I enjoyed it very much!


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