Little girl by a fence looking to see if anyone is watchingGetting Kids to Cooperate Without Repeating Yourself

Two days to Thanksgiving and the pressure is mounting. To add to the chaos, your child is just NOT listening.

You say blue, and she says purple.
You ask nicely, she refuses.
You yell and repeat yourself, she ignores you.
It feels like she only listens when you raise your voice, repeat yourself 3-5 times, use her full name, and then take action.

You don’t need this right now! And you don’t want this happening on Thanksgiving in front of family either! What can be done?

Let me ask you this?
Is it possible that your children perceive your repetitions as warnings that always 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 described in any article on the web will address exactly what’s going on in your house, but see if this one comes close:

The Typical Dialog
Sweet Suzie does something wrong or annoying and Dad says, “Stop it!” Then Dad goes back to reading the newspaper. Suzie doesn’t stop. Mom chimes in and says, “Stop it now!” Then Mom goes back to making breakfast. Suzie still doesn’t stop. Mom and Dad continue saying, “Stop it!” two or three more times, adding in dashes of “I mean it!” and “I’m not kidding!” And still, Suzie doesn’t stop. Then, Dad uses her full name: “Susan Anne!” Susie seems to perk up, but still continues. She only stops when she hears: “Stop. It. Right. This. Minute. Susan. Anne. Or. Else!” Sound familiar?

Where’s Your Line in the Sand?
Each parent has a unique way of expressing, “I’m at the end of my rope, this is the line in the sand!” 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, Suzie has experienced that there are always several requests to “stop it” first. Her cue that Mom is almost at the end of her rope only comes when mom calls out her full name. And she knows that mom really means business when she says, “Susan Anne” and adds, “Stop it right this minute.”

Essentially, Suzie has mom’s line up memorized. She’s waiting for mom to do what she’s always done before she’ll listen: yell her full name, then give instructions using the firm voice. Suzie has learned that she doesn’t have to “really” listen until mom’s instructions follow that order.

The “line up” is different in every household. In your family it may be when you use his full name or raise your voice. It could be when you begin to yell. The “line up” could begin the moment Mom enters the room with an angry look on her face. Or it could be the threat of losing TV, the computer, or getting a timeout. It could be any of it, or all of it.

No matter what your “line up” is, your child has been trained by you to wait for it. She won’t listen to you until she 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. They know more repetitions of “stop it” are on the way. 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. Your wish, dream and desire is that your children 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 “line up” 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 begins the process of going 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. If it does, then consider looking into more detailed ways to respond instead of reacting on our site,

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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