It’s ok to provide explanations for rules, actions, and limits. You will want to keep these explanations concise and tailored to your child’s age. For instance, for a three-year-old, you could say: “You have to go to bed, because your brain needs to rest, let’s get ready!”

However, only plan to provide an explanation once prior to giving instructions.

Coping with Endless Whys…

Always end explanations with the intended directive, as that will be the last thing your little one hears. This will support the memorization of the instruction and compliance.

If your child is old enough to reason with, you can reflect the question back to him “Why do you think we should go to bed now?” Following his response praise the answer (“good thinking!”) and repeat the instruction. 

If your little one begins an endless string of whys, you can give the instruction and redirect: “it’s time for bed, let’s start our story”, “go get your coat, how fast can you go?!”

What to Do – Be the GPS

Imagine that you were driving and your GPS was programmed to say… “Don’t turn left here!” “Don’t turn right!” It would get confusing.. Where are you supposed to go??  Same for kids.

DON’T SAYDO SAY
Don’t runWalk slowly
Don’t hitUse gentle hands; use your words
Don’t pick your noseUse a Kleenex
Don’t grab toysWait your turn; let’s share
Don’t throw food on the floorLet’s keep the food on the table
Stop screaming; stop yellingUse your indoors voice; speak softly; let’s take 3 deep breaths
No bitingUse your words
Stop cryingUse your words; tell me what’s wrong

Always use Dos instead of Don’ts. You want to include in your instruction the behaviour you want to see, not the one you want to eliminate. Here’s a chart for common directives. Feel free to plan ahead for behaviours you commonly run into.

Note: For some stop directives (“stop touching the TV”, “don’t play with the water”), it can be difficult to find the corresponding Do directive. In these instances, you can turn to redirecting and giving your attention to another behaviour (“bring me the book,” “show me the toy!”), and praising (giving all of that positive attention to compliance and engagement in alternate behaviours – “you are such a good listener!”). If you are busy in that moment and can’t fully engage with your little one, use directives to encourage independence – “you are such a good listener! What’s that book about?!”, “thank you for listening! Bring the blocks and show me how you build a house!”). 

Praise, Praise, Praise! 

Always praise children when you see good behaviour: “Thank you so much for putting your pyjamas on!”, “You did such a great job getting your coat!”  This reinforces the positive behaviour that you want, which will increase the chances that you’ll see more of it in the future. Praise can be incredibly powerful, oftentimes even more so than consequences, as it lets little ones know what behaviours are desirable. 

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

If there are certain things you are repeating all the time, pointing to a picture of the instruction can help. For example, use first/then boards (first we eat, then outside), label toy bins where different toys may go, craft choice boards to indicate available options, use pictures to illustrate multi-step activities (washing hands, brushing teeth, dressing). Use google images to find helpful images to illustrate actions, steps, and options. 

Fuel up When You Can!

If you find yourself feeling tired and overwhelmed, remember to take some time for yourself. This is a difficult time and having the kids at home all the time is not easy. Try to find ways to recharge during naps or independent play time. Make yourself that fancy drink, watch that episode you’ve been saving, or have that decadent treat! You deserve it!

A Summary for Inquisitive Minds…

It can be challenging to get cooperation without feeling drained, but hang in there!  Learning takes time, and with consistency, your little one will start to know the rules.

Parenting Q&A

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ms Julieta Aguilera, PhDc

Julieta is a doctoral candidate in Child Psychology and loves helping children and families through her advice on Blake Psychology's Q&A Parenting Blog.

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