Children can behave more appropriately, positively, and respectfully if we give them clear instructions on how we want them to behave. When a child has clear instructions he/she knows exactly what is expected of him/ her and they will not need to guess and try out behaviors. Their ability to perform as we want them to will build their self-esteem and enable them to be more successful. Giving clear instructions is part of behavioral therapy; a very popular therapy used with children. If you would like to learn more about behavioral therapy, I suggest Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies.
How to give your child clear instructions
1. Give step by step instructions
These instructions should be age appropriate and in a simple language that your child understands.
2. Describe exactly what you want to see or hear from your child
What you describe should be something measurable. “Be good” does not work because your child may not know what this means. Instead, something like, “use your quiet indoor voice and do not yell”, or “pick up all of your blocks and put them in the blue box” works much better. You should describe specifically the behavior that you would like your child to perform in detail.
3. Give your child a reason
Explaining your reasoning to your child shows that there is a reason that you are asking for the desired behavior and that you are fair. This builds on your child’s trust because he/she understands that you are fair and do things or ask him/her to do things for a reason. Do not worry about loosing authority here; giving a reason when giving clear instructions is about explaining to your child why he/she must do what you ask but your are not bargaining, only explaining.
4. Check that your child understands the instructions
If understanding directions may be difficult, understanding reasoning could be even more difficult for a child. Children do not understand everything and providing clarification can help. Plus, asking if your child understands shows him/her that you care that he/she understands and that you are willing to re-explain to help him/her do so. It shows that you are not only interested in compliance but in his/her education.
5. Show, role-play or practice with your child
Taking a second to physically show your child what you are asking can be very helpful. If you ask your child to put all of the stuffed animals in the basket, bending over and grabbing one or two stuffed animals and putting them in the basket cements learning and helps your child understand. This also shows that you are willing to help and that you care about the task you asked your child to perform. Even adults like examples, visuals and experiments. Help your child understand better by explaining in a physical form what your instructions are.
6. Tell your child what he/she did correctly
Praising your child for a job well done is a very great motivator. Be as specific as possible and point out exactly what your child did that you liked. If your child put all of the puzzles away but forgot to put away the dolls, you can say “you did a good job putting the puzzles away in their drawer!”.
7. Repeat all of the steps above for what your child did incorrectly
If your child only did part of what you asked, after praising the part he/she did do, remind your child of the steps to perform what you asked of him/her and follow all of the steps.