By Molly Hankla, MA, BCBA and Dr. Cat Baker, PhD, BCBA-D
Compliance can be thought of as beginning to engage in a behavior shortly after a demand is given. Essentially, following directions. For older kids, we typically expect that response time to be quicker than for younger kids, but certainly, children of all ages often struggle to comply to demands altogether. Compliance is one of the most common skills we work on with children and families because noncompliance can so quickly lead to stress for all involved – parents feeling frustrated that they’re repeating themselves over and over, children feeling upset that they’re being yelled at (and maybe not knowing why), everyone getting flustered when the transition to the car or dinner is taking longer than necessary. Sound familiar?
To help alleviate some of this stress and help teach your child how to comply better with your instructions, there are some things we can do on the front end to help increase the likelihood that your child listens the first time you ask. One of these strategies seems obvious but is not always as easy as it is simple: get your child’s attention. It’s impossible for your child to follow your directions if they aren’t first paying attention to you and what you’re saying. And in order to gain your child’s attention, I recommend getting closer, not louder. Here’s how:
- Increase proximity to your child. Instead of shouting across the house, come into the room your child is in, and into their “space” if possible. The closer you are to your child, the more obvious it is that they’re who you’re talking to or looking for.
- Get on their level. For example, if your child is playing with toys on the floor, join them in the play space; if your child is sitting on the couch, sit on the couch next to them. Once you’re on their level, you can attempt to make eye contact.
- Interrupt any ongoing activities. The fewer distractions, the more likely your child is to attend to you and what you’re instructing. So, mute the TV, pause the video game, or position yourself between your child and the box of toys BEFORE you give your instruction.
- Start a conversation first. Before jumping right into a demand, have a short conversation first. Just checking in with your child can help in a few ways. First, your child is engaging with you and what you’re saying, so you know they’re listening to what you’re telling them. Second, it also may provide you with some context with what they’re doing, and if your instructions are feasible to be followed at that moment. For example, if you’re child tells you that they have two minutes left in the video they’re watching, it may be better to ask them when they’re done, at a more natural transition time.
Remember, the most important step to improving your child’s instruction following and compliance is to gain their attention. This not only improves the chances that your child follows through, but can also reduce stress and open the opportunity for you to provide your child with encouragement.
Want more positive parenting tips? We recommend “Positive Parenting Defined” and “7 Positive Reinforcement Tips for Parents.”
If you’re looking for a deep dive into parenting communication resources, we also recommend “How to Talk so Kids will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk.” We’re super happy to be working with Bookshop to recommend our favorite books. If you use our link to make your purchase, we receive a percentage of your purchase total, which we use to buy more books to use in session with our kiddos! Win-win!