Follow Through on Your Instructions

Whether you know it or not, your family forms routines to accomplish the repetitive tasks of home life. Routines develop around bedtime, getting up in the morning, mealtime and many other common situations. You probably have an instruction routine, because giving instructions happens often in families. An instruction routine sometimes develops in ways that are counter-productive, so the first step in changing a poor routine is to give a simple, clear, and anger free instruction. Consider your current instruction routine: Is it effective? You may have a great instruction routine and your children may be cooperating perfectly. If that's your family, congratulations! This article may not help you at all.

In some families, however, the routine develops like this: the parent gives an instruction, then gets busy and forgets about it. Remembering later, the parent checks on the child to find that nothing has been done. The parent speaks a little louder or with a threat like, "I'm not going to ask you again to..." or "How many times do I have to ask you to...?" The parent goes away and doesn't follow through, and the child waits for another parental appearance. Children play this kind of delay game until they finally observe a cue that causes them to think "Mom's really serious now, so I better move!" Sometimes that cue is the redness in your face, veins popping out on your neck or anger in your voice. I suggest you change your routine by making it clear that you will follow through right away if your child does not begin to obey.

Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, parenting experts and authors of numerous books, tell parents to use a "tight action point." A tight action point means that you act quickly to require your child to follow through with the instruction. You don't allow them to wait. Some parents fail to foster cooperation in their children because they don't follow through. Here's a simple suggestion from Turansky and Miller for a better instruction routine—have your child answer back. Requiring this answer immediately upon giving an instruction sends the cue that you mean now.

When you give an instruction, teach your child to say 'yes Mom' or 'yes Dad.' You may prefer 'Yes Ma'am/Yes Sir.' If you have a child who is prone to forget what you said or has trouble focusing, have them repeat your instruction to you. You might say "Maria, tell me what I just told you to do." By having your child answer back as part of your routine, or having them repeat your instruction, you make sure your child heard you. You also have a chance to gauge their heart's intention by their response. A child who won't answer back (after being taught to do so) may need a lesson about respect or responsibility. That child might be angry or sullen. Body language like rolling the eyes or stomping of feet indicates a selfish or disrespectful heart. As a parent, you may choose to deal with these wrong attitudes right then, or deal with them after the child has completed the task.

Regardless of when you handle a bad attitude, be sure you begin to require your child to answer back. It will remind you to make your action point tight. And of course, don't go off and ignore your child after giving an instruction. Check to see if they are moving to follow through promptly. These behaviors on your part tell your child that your instruction is a matter of high value to you. It may take time for these changes to take effect. Remember, you may see the benefit and be committed to make these changes, but your child may need time to develop new responses.

A faulty instruction routine generates harshness on your part, encourages disobedience, and builds frustration in both you and your child. A clear, gentle, but firm instruction routine with prompt follow-through creates a peaceful home and teaches your child to respect your words.