How many times a day do you think you say, “stop!” to your kids? How do you think they process that command? Honestly, I never thought about it much when I was parenting my son. The change happened when I started working at a learning center. I was hired for the 3-4yrs old class, but one day I was called in to help with the 1-2yrs old class. The teachers would state what they wanted the children to do instead of telling them to “stop” doing something. It was shocking to see how well the children responded to commands that didn’t include the word “stop”! The phrase I heard the most was, “Feet on the floor.” Kiddos love to climb at that age, and the majority of the time, the children responded immediately. Learning this strategy was a magical day for me!

What this experience taught me is that saying, “stop!” is not the most effective way to get our children to change their behavior. In fact, sometimes, the command causes them to move towards an even more undesirable behavior. I did some research on why this is the case. An excerpt from an article by Sarah Punkoney, Founder of Stay At Home Educator, sums it up best, “Believe it or not, sorting skills start developing in infancy. A baby cries or laughs, which elicits a reaction from her parents, and she immediately starts learning which is the most effective in getting what she wants. She quickly learns how to organize those responses, and she begins to make sense of her world.” When we say “stop,” children are sorting out what to do next. The outcome is a parental crapshoot. We can help them sort towards desirable behavior by giving them instruction in the form of a command.

It is important to make sure we are wording our command clearly and not as a request. Saying, “could you put your feet down.” is an example of a request that is unclear. Saying “could you” gives them the option to do it or not to. The phrase “feet down” is unclear, and where you’re desiring their feet to be (on the floor) may not be where they end up! “Feet on the floor” is an example of a clear command that will give you the desired result.

It will take practice to not say “stop” and give clear commands. The effort will be worth it. First, you will notice that having to threaten a punishment diminishes because the option to say no is less obvious. Second, the opportunity for your child to think about other behavior choices is diminished because a clear direction was given.
A few phrases are listed below to help you get started on building your list.

 

Climbing “Feet on the floor”
Throwing toys “Toys stay on the floor”
Running “Use walking feet”
Yelling “Use a quiet voice”

In the area of giving clear commands, you’re about to start winning!

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