"You CAN Compete With Brownies" - Helping Kids Follow Directions (Part 2)

Broccoli vs Brownies

If your child had a choice between broccoli and brownies, we all know which food item would win.

Brownies have a yummy factor that make it hard for broccoli to compete.

The same goes with video games and a parent's instructions. Parent says, "Okay...that's enough video games for one day. Go clean your room." Child says, "Mawwwwwmmmmmmmm!! C'mon!! Just let us play a little more!"

Video games have a fun factor that make hard for Mom's instructions to compete. Keep your competitive edge by following the models and tips below. (Hint: Just like in Part 1, the tips in this post are all about doing things to keep your voice less aversive.)

Model #1:

"Son, you've done a great job finishing your homework. I'm proud of you. Now you'll get 30 minutes to play video games. I'll tell you when 30 minutes is up. Then I will clean the kitchen while you spend time cleaning your room."

Tips from model #1:

  • Affirm, affirm, affirm. Your voice will sound less aversive to your child if your words, actions, facial expressions and priorities convince them that they're enjoyable/wonderful and NOT annoying/obnoxious. Before you give an instruction, try to see if it's possible to sneak in an affirming phrase or action that will be meaningful to your child.
  • Super-fun activities are privileges given to award responsible behavior. The more consistently you do this, the less your kids will feel entitled. (aka...They won't feel like you're robbing them when you tell them to stop a super-fun activity.)
  • Activities are NOT announced one at a time. When possible, give kids a mental map of what the next 2 hours are going to look like. It will make the end of fun activities less disappointing and your voice less aversive.
  • Parents model responsibility when children are asked to be responsible. If you think your child will complain...
    • ...when you tell them to eat broccoli, then eat a bigger serving yourself at the same time.
    • ...when you tell them to clean their room, inform them, first, that you'll be cleaning the bathroom at the same time.

Model #2:

"Wow, sweetie, I really like watching you play with those dolls. You are really playing a fun game. In 3 minutes I want you to say, 'Okay Daddy,' to something I tell you. After you play 3 more minutes of your special game, I'm going to say, 'we are going to fill up our bellies with some yummy food. Tell your dolls to take a nap, then sit in your chair for eating dinner.' Remember, after I tell you all of that I want you to say, 'Okay Daddy,' or 'Yes Daddy.'" (3-second pause) "What does Daddy want you to say after I tell you to sit at your chair for dinner?" (Wait for child's response, then say...) "Yes. Good. Good girl. I will say, 'time for dinner,' and you will say, 'okay Daddy."

Tips from model #2:

  • Rehearse the kinds of reactions to your instructions that you expect. This will help reduce the amount of tantrums/fits/meltdowns that your kids have after you give them an instruction. You won't always avoid tantrums, but when you can, it will help to keep your voice less aversive.
  • Let them know THAT YOU KNOW that they're having fun. If your instruction is like a pill, it will be easier for your child to swallow if you acknowledge that what they're currently doing is fun.
  • Give them a 2-5 minute "heads-up" before their fun has to be done.
  • When needed, and without over-exaggerating, make your instruction sound more fun than it really is. For example, saying, "fill up our bellies with some yummy food," is more playful/attractive/less-aversive than saying, "dinnertime!"
  • Ask them to practice the expected response beforehand. Make it crystal clear, for the child, exactly what obedience is. If you do, there's no way that you'll be regarded as UNFAIR when giving an appropriate consequence for a child's failure to comply.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat. Did you notice that, in Model #2, 4 TIMES I said that it was dinnertime? Depending on your child's age, and what they are doing while you're giving your instruction, don't be afraid to repeat it several times.

Model #3 (Putting On The Brakes):

"Boys and girls, your voices are sounding funny and a little not right when I'm telling you what to do. I hear you saying, 'but Daaaaaddddd...I want to PLAY more!' and sometimes your eyes are going like this:"
"I want you to know that our house will be a sad place if the boys and girls complain and if the boys and girls give Daddy those kinds of eyes. When you give me those kinds of eyes, you are saying something without words. Without words you're saying, 'Daddy, I DON'T like what you're telling me to do! I think that I HAVE the better idea of what I should do. I want to do my way!' Whenever that happens, boys and girls, it makes our house a sad place. A lot of kids think that it's happiest when they get to do what they want to do. (A lot of BIG people think that too!) But it's NOT true. There's something really happy that happens when you say, 'Daddy, what do YOU want me to do?' and, 'okay Daddy, I will do what you say.' My ways for you are good. My ways for you are special.
Boys and girls, I want our house to be a fun place. I want to make it a happy place. So I will give you lots of practice. If it's hard for you to do what Daddy wants you to do, then I will give you lots of practice. I will not let you choose your fun things. You will have to do mostly (only) the things that Daddy says. I will choose a lot and you won't choose very much at all. After that, if I see you saying, 'yes Daddy,' a lot, that's when I'l know that I can let you do more things of what YOU want to do."

Tips from model #3:

  • Put on the brakes if what's trending in your home is complaining, attitudes and non-compliance. You should put on the brakes if...
    • ...you start getting afraid of tantrums or you find yourself trying too hard to avoid them.
    • ...your kids leave the scene of your instructions with scowls, stomping feet, or rolling eyes.
    • ...your kids talk back after you give instructions.
  • Don't let attitudes/defiance (even wordless attitudes/defiance) go unmentioned. Talk about it. Point it out. In a calm and serious way, say that it's unacceptable.
  • Be a mirror for them. On your face, show them what their face/scowl looks like. Put words to their wordless attitudes, gestures and facial expressions.
  • Teach them that attitude/defiance never leads to happiness. Explicitly and comprehensibly use words to teach them that their fierce commitment to getting their own way won't lead to having a good life.
  • Teach them that instructions are good. Following Mom and Dad's directions will actually make the home/family more happy. By doing this, you will be creating a "culture" where your instructions/voice are NOT AVERSIVE and, instead, a blessing.

(The tips from model #4 are actually really important. If you don't do these things consistently, it's as if you're always mixing in the broccoli with the brownie batter while never teaching your kids that eating broccoli by itself is a good and healthy habit.)

Model #4 (The Re-Cap Method):

"Wow, you boys have done a great job. We had a yummy breakfast and you ate everything. I liked it that you got a time to play in your room and then you came right away when I asked you to brush your teeth in the bathroom. It's so special to be your dad." Then I'll say something like, "Well, I wanted to sit down with you here on the bathroom floor to tell you some things that we are going to do next. Later today we are going to bring our bikes to your cousins house and ride. It will be SO FUN to watch you. Before we leave, you will help me get ready. I have to clean the kitchen and I want you to make your beds and pick up your toys. Then, before we put the bikes in the car, we'll all go out to water the flowers before we get to see your cousins. You guys do a great job and I'm so glad we get to do these things together."

Tips from model #4:

  • When you plan on giving an instruction to your kids, start your statements with something affirming, positive, or celebratory. Notice (in Model #4 above) that the aversive instructions (in italics) are sandwiched between non-aversive statements (in bold).
  • The Re-Cap Method helps get their attention. Notice how the opening statements (in Model #4) are 1- engaging/attractive and 2- lengthy. When it's time for a parent to give an instruction, a child's focus may be somewhere else. Sometimes, by making your opening statements engaging and lengthy, you can effectively (and un-aversively) get their attention before you deliver the instruction.

There's hope.

You CAN compete with brownies!


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