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Getting Children to Do As We Ask
Episode 798th December 2022 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
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This episode is all about ways we can encourage our children to do what we ask first time! I know it’s probably one of the most frustrating things we can up against as parents - ask isn’t once, twice, three times and then getting angry and frustrated that our children haven’t listened. 

Now I’m going to tackle this in two half’s because there’s the dealing with it in the moment and then there’s the putting expectations in place. The more we’re clear in communicating our expectations and consistently applying them the easier the in-moment stuff will be and the less you’ll find yourself having to handle it. 

I recently shared in my newsletter an article about Japanese fans and players at the Qatar World Cup both of whom after each match have tidied up the stands of rubbish and tidied their dressing room. This isn’t new behaviour specific to this World Cup - they’ve done it at previous tournaments. Why am I sharing this? The relevance is Japanese culture instils a sense of pride in tidying and children are raised to do this from a young age - they tidy their classrooms at school for example. The reason why it’s so relevant to this podcast episode is the notion of expedition and consistently in application. Children are capable of anything we consistently communicate we expect and consistently apply those expectations. For example we all expect our children to walk - so we encourage them as they toddle around and fall on their bottoms knowing that in time they’ll get there - they just need our encouragement. We don’t throw our hands in the air in exasperation when they fall on their bottoms because we have faith they will get there. The same rules apply to getting children to do what we ask - honestly it is.   


Here are the highlights: 

(00:41) Tackling on both fronts 

(05:01) Expectation and consistency 

(12:42) Do you have their attention? 

(15:33) Be specific and clear 

(18:19) Approach one thing at a time 

(21:22) Repeating back the request 

(25:43) Consistency gives you the tipping point 

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Hello, and welcome to the How Not To Scrub Your Kids' Podcast. So pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat, and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 79 and today's episode, getting Children to Do as We Ask is all about ways we can encourage our children to do what we ask first. . I know it's probably one of the most frustrating things we can come up against.

As parents. We ask once. Three times, and then we get angry and frustrated that our children haven't listened and done as we've asked them to do. Now, I'm gonna tackle this in two ways from both fronts really, because there's the dealing with it in the moment, dealing with the issue that we've asked them to something for them to do something, and they've not necessarily done it straight away.

But there's also a really big part around putting the expectations in place in the first. So I've got you back. Do not worry. We're gonna cover it both ways. The more we are clear, in my view, in communicating our expectations and consistently applying them, the easier it is when we get caught in those in the moment bits and pieces.

So that's why it's so important that we're going to be covering it, and in lots of ways, if you are listening to this podcast episode, if you found me very recently or you've been listening for a while and your children. Very young, really young. Then, you know, in lots of ways, you are in the ideal and perfect sort of position because it's all about the expectations.

And I'll talk about this a little bit more in a in a minute, but when we set those expectations and we communicate those to our children, and we are then consistent in the application of those expectations. And follow through the steps that I'm gonna be talking to you about, then it is so much easier.

But I suspect for a lot of parents, it's one of those situations where your children are 7, 8, 13, 15, 16, whatever age your children are, but they're older and these things have not been put in place, no criticism, but we don't always know and we. We're juggling multiple things as parents don't forget, is that what then happens is we get find ourselves getting caught into the slightly vicious loop and then we feel like we're slightly banging our head against brick wall.

So I'm gonna be covering it from both ways. Now, if you are on my newsletter email list, you would've seen that I had recently shared an article about the Japanese fans at, and the players at the Qatar World Cup, and both of whom, After their matches had tidied up the stands, so the, the supporters had tidied up the stands of rubbish.

They'd taken plastic bags and they'd gone along after the match and tidied up, and the players had tidied up their dressing room. Now, this isn't any sort of new behavior for the Japanese fans that's specific to this particular World Cup. They've done it at previous tournaments, so it's not new. Why am I sharing this?

The relevance. Related to Japanese culture, which instills a sense of pride in tidying, and children are raised to do this from a very young age. They tidy their classrooms at school, for example. Now, the reason why it's relevant to this podcast episode is this notion of expectation and consistency in application children I genuinely, truly, and utterly believe are capable.

Anything we consistently communicate that we expect, and that we consistently apply these expectations. For example, we all expect our children to walk, so we encourage them as they toddle around and fall on their bottoms, knowing that in time they'll get there. They just need our encouragement, our coaxing, our cajoling, our scooping them up when they feel battered and bruised and tearful.

But we know. That they're going to do it. We, you know, we don't, if we've got a little toddler learning to walk, we don't throw our hands up in exasperation when they fall on their bottoms and get crossed with them, or frustrated that they haven't listened or, or walked around the coffee table or the safer in a particular way because we have unwavering.

That they are going to get there. And the same rules apply to getting children to do what we ask them. Honestly, it absolutely is. And I'll share a particular anecdote from when my children were younger. You know, I. Had certain expectations of the children and um, they were very fortunate enough to have a room, which was their playroom.

Not always the case for lots and lots of children, but they were very lucky. They had the separate room where they had a playroom. And being an organized kind of person, I had all of these sort of various different crates and plastic things that certain toys would go into. So there was one that the train and car things went into.

There was another one that. Wooden blocks, you know, those sorts of things. I can't believe I'm the only parent that does this, but you'll be listening and you probably have similar things even if you don't have a dedicated room. And the expectations made really, really clear to the children from a very, very young age that before we went to bed, before we did the whole bath time and other things, is we tidied everything away into the.

Sort of receptacle and we tidied up. And so, you know, initially when they were younger, it was a very sort of a game that we did together and we tidied up and we put things away. And then as they got older, they just, it was part of what they did. If I was cooking dinner, it was like, tidy up and let's get ready to eat and then we're going to go up to bed.

And so, because that was consistently applied because that was something we. All of the time children would do that. And in fact, it was, the reason why I'm saying it, it was, it even got to that point where as the children got older and they had play dates, they had children over to come and play, and just as their parent was then about to take the child home, my children were then to ask their friends, oh, we need to tidy up now.

So I'm saying this not because I'm a perfect parent because I did not consistently apply making their beds and a whole host of other things, which then we, I battled with in the same way that you do, but. What I'm saying is that because I applied that consistently, because I just expected it to happen, because we did it all of the time, it became a natural part of what our children do.

And if you think that there'll be some things that you do within your family routinely, whether that's laying a table, whether that's putting plates into dishwashers, whether that's putting plates into sinks, whether it's putting laundry in, whatever it is. You will all have things that you consistently apply and you are unwavering with that and your children do it.

It's exactly the reason why in this Japanese culture, that's what they do. It's about tidying up. It's something that's so indoctrinated into them. It's part of that culture, and they understand why there's a pride in it, and it will be exactly the same for our children. So as I said before, if you have got really super young, You are the lucky ones because you can put this in place now and start these things.

If we've got, for a lot of us, we've got older children, or maybe we've put some things in place that are working brilliantly, but other things we're now battling over. Then I'm going to also cover that so that the first thing that I would say is it's really important that we communicate. If we're looking at the long term, it's about communicating to our children why we want them to do these things, why it's important and it's part of contribution.

But a key aspect to all of this is that we need to be thinking about how we communicate these things to our children and what I've talked so many times about having these Sunday meetings and they are. Crucial. Maybe I'm doing a bit of a nag here, but maybe I am going to be a bit naggy here. It's so important that we check in with our children.

Parenting is one thing that we do. We have multiple things that we're juggling multiple roles, multiple aspects of our lives, and parenting is just one of those, and quite often one of the reasons why children don't do what we. It's because what we ask can be inconsistent, can be off the cuff, and cons can often be part of a long stream of instructions that we give our children.

And so that can feed through to some of the issues. So I will give you my seven tips onto how we can be more effective in those moments. But we can't just rely on being more effective in the moments We need to have regular check-ins. We need to do regular reviews of what's happening because quite often, Priorities change.

We have to have different focuses. Sometimes our children are on school holidays, sometimes they're not. Sometimes we've got a big, um, work project. Sometimes we haven't. Sometimes we've got people coming to stay, sometimes we haven't. Sometimes we're going away. There's a whole host of things that will feed into this that will create all of these additional challenges.

And so having a regular opportunity to bring everyone together. Really keeps you in that mind frame of checking in and reviewing, but also gets your children in an expectation that every single Sunday, or Saturday or Friday, whenever you choose to do it as a family, we get together, we check in. With how the week has gone.

We check in with the expectations around our contribution around the house, and then we then set the expectations for the following week. So it gives everybody an opportunity to reconnect. And I think there's accountability for our children, that kind of perspective of they know that there's going to be that regular check in, but there's also an accountability for us to, rather than let things slide and we've gone.

Several weeks of just being patient, that our children haven't made their bed or that we've had to g gather up their things because they haven't tidied up. And instead of it becoming cumulative, it only ever sort of accumulates over the space of seven days before we then check in and we can prevent a lot of the issues around how we communicate with our children about asking them to do things which often cause a lot of the.

So I think that that's a really important context to remember. So we are now gonna move onto the practical steps about this. And what I would say before we sort of dive in is that if you have been battling with this issue around encouraging your children, getting your children to do what you ask them to do first time, then we really need to remember that you're not gonna get overnight changes to these.

Strategies that I'm gonna talk you through, it's going to take time. And I think what is a really crucial thing that we need to do as parents, and certainly I've been phenomenally guilty of this. Maybe you haven't. Is it? Quite often we listen to a podcast, read a book, or whatever it might be, that we get our source of information and we think, oh goodness me, that makes real sense.

Why am I not doing that? Okay? Like, this is what I'm going to do. And then when we don't see results straight away, we either think we've got it wrong and we've done something wrong, or it's a rubbish technique anyway, and we throw it out the window and then we look for the next. And what I would say is that I've certainly discovered is that consistency is key.

Even if the strategies that you are employing are not the best strategies, if you are consistent in the application of them and you have faith in them working over time, they 100%. It's just understanding that things are not gonna change overnight. Particularly if you've been su, you know, you've been battling this, is that you're not gonna get this immediate U-turn.

Sometimes you do and it is phenomenal, but quite often when you get that massive U-turn and you think, yes, I've absolutely nailed this, you then have a whole host of days where it's not working, but just have faith. It is consistent and that it will fundamentally change. Because what we're trying to do is we're trying.

Our children get caught into this slight mode. And you know, certainly my children communicated it to me as they got older. It was almost like, oh, what's the latest thing that mum's now trying? Oh, how long's this gonna last? And then there'll be a whole different rule next time. And so they battle against that because they think that the, you know, that those f it's constantly changing.

And so you don't necessarily get. Tipping point for our children to realize that this is actually going to be the new normal and then they start to feed through. So enough of my pre-qualifying, let's dive in. And the first thing I would say, if we're looking at getting our children to do what we ask, the first thing is have you got their attention?

Have you absolutely got their attention? Because so often with these things, our children don't do what we've asked because they haven't actually heard us. They're not listening or their mind is switched into something else. We, they might be looking at us, we might have eye contact with them, but they're actually thinking about something else.

You just think about it from your point of view as an adult, how many times have we been, has someone said something to us and we've literally been looking at them, our whole body language. It's tuned in, but our mind has been elsewhere. So really make sure when you give that instruction, when you ask your child to do something, that you have 100% got their attention.

How do you do that? For me, I think it's really helpful if we try and make sure that we break that pattern of what they're doing. And I love the sort of the idea of just placing our hand gently. Um, either on their arm or their shoulder, whatever it might be. Whatever feels instinctive and right, so that we can then break whatever it is that their concentration is in that moment.

And we can just check, just, just wanna check, I've got your retention for a minute cause I wanna ask you to do something. Something like that. Because then we've got their attention, then they're listening. Then we can ask them to do something. And I'm gonna give you another technique to make sure that you are, that they're clear.

That you are clear that they've heard you. But the first thing is actually have we got their attention? Now, I know that a lot of the time when we're asking our children to do something, it may well be something that we're asking them to do while we're in the middle of trying to organize something else.

May make sure you've got your book bag cause we've gotta go, can you please make sure you brush your teeth? And we are doing something else at the, at the. My rule of thumb is generally as for being forgiving parents and rather than beating ourselves over the head, is that if we can get this right at least two out of 10 times, then we will begin to see a shift.

You do not have to do this 100% of the time because you won't be able to do it 100% of the time because life happens. But if you can make a conscious shift, Out of the 10 times that you do this to make sure that you've got their attention, you will notice a bit more of a tipping point so that you are not feeling constantly frustrated, that you are constantly asking 'em to do something and they're not doing what you ask them.

So it's make sure that you have their attention. Give them a gentle touch to that, they've got that contact. And then just said, just wanted to check. I've got your attention cause I wanna ask you to do. So really keep it simple and if for the eight other times you do what we often do, which is just shout out behind them, well make sure you've done this or could you bring this or do.

Then that's fine. So that's the first one is make sure you've got their attention. Number two is be specific and reduce the number of words that you use, particularly if you've been battling your children. If your children feel that you've been, that you are nagging and that you're being asking them repeatedly, they have already tuned out to probably 80% of the words that you've used.

So really be specific about it. So brush your teeth please before bed. Or brush your teeth and then come downstairs to say goodnight. Whatever it is, try and reduce the number of words that you use and make your tone of voice pretty flat. As such. I want you to take that emotion, that nagging, that frustration, that annoyance out of it.

Then I say this with love, but often because that's what our children will pick up on if we're raising our. If we're getting frustrated because it's something that we've often battled around our children, pick up on the emotion rather than the instruction. And that emotion can sometimes paralyze them, particularly if we've got a, a very sensitive child or a child who's already feeling quite overwhelmed.

So it's not about making you feel guilty, but just if you want success. We have to make sure that we've got their attention and we have to make sure that we're being really specific, reducing the number of words that we ask them within that instruction, and that we keep the tone, almost matter of fact, that there's an expectation that they're just gonna do this in a polite and courteous way, but that there is just simply, it's an instruction.

And the reason why that works in conjunction with these Sunday meetings is that you've already had this conversation around, you know, we've noticed that getting up to bed at nighttime is not, you know, we're having battles around this all of the time. Let's just talk about, let's just, you know, just talk through again, what are the things that we need to do before we go to bed?

And, and the expectations around that. So you've got that communication happening already. And so when you are doing these things, it comes from a framework of expectations. It comes from a framework of consistency. You've been having these discussions with your children regularly each week if need be. So you're not getting into a daily nag.

It's just been a weekly with the heat taken outta that moment. You're not in the middle of that situation just reviewing what has worked and what hasn't worked. And that's what's so crucial and that's why it's so important to do this, to have these regular meetings and check-ins, because then you can talk about what's working and what's not working.

And actually what I probably should have qualified right at the beginning is, Try and choose one area, one aspect of the things that you want to get your children to do, rather than trying to do multiple things at the same time. The strategies are exactly the same across anything that you are asking your child to do.

But if you are looking at making a shift, I think it's much easier if you focus in on one area and what, by one area. It could be around homework, dinner time, going up to bed, getting ready for school, those sorts of aspects. Or maybe just daily or regular taking care of things or contributing around the house, making sure that they're tidying their bedrooms.

Don't try and tackle lots of different things. It's so much easier to then look at one particular area. Really get that one tuned in and really clear, rather than do the others. And the reason for that is that you'll find it so much more difficult to be consistent across multiple different areas.

Whereas if you focus on just the one thing, you then know, okay, right, it's bedtime. I know I'm kicking into gear. What are the things that we've agreed to do, right? This is what I need to make sure I do. Rather than trying to constantly keep yourself on that kind of conscious. Sort of area all of the time.

So number one is make sure you've got their attention in the first place. They're not gonna do what you ask them first time if they haven't actually heard you or processed in what you've said or really taken on board the request. The second one is make sure that when we make that request, it's really specific and it's super clear.

We've used a tone that is matter of fact in that we have an expectation it's going to be. But in a kind way, and that we've been very mindful of the number of words that we are using. And then the third one is be clear about the timeframe. Yeah. If you're saying to your children, go brush your teeth. Well, do they have to brush it right now?

Do they have to brush it in half an hour? Do they brush it? Yeah. So go brush your teeth because in 15 minutes it's going to be bedtime and we wanna make sure that we can do. , whatever that might be, be really clear about the timeframe, whether that's using a specific time for your children, because they're perfectly capable of telling the time they wear a watch, they know what's going to happen, or a timeframe in terms of then what we call bootstrapping, but add it to something that you're going to be doing.

So go and brush your teeth now, so you can come downstairs and put your shoes on ready for. So it's just making sure that your children understand what the timeframe is so that they know what your expectation is, rather than us expecting them to know. Now, I know that there'll be some of you thinking, but my children should know that they have to brush their teeth and that before bedtime, but, I think that we mustn't project our expectations in this.

They should know if we haven't done it consistently. If our children are not in a habit of doing these things regularly, day in, day out, then let us not project our assumption that they should know that these things are important, but make sure that they do. So have we got their a. Have we been super specific in what we've asked them to do?

Have we been really clear about the timeframe? And then number four is so crucial, ask them to repeat back your request. So just let me just check, what have I just asked you to do? Can you just remind me what I've asked you to do? Can you just repeat back so I can check that you've, you know what I want you to do, whatever words that you use, whatever feels natural for you.

And of course you need to put your own slant on this and use your own language, but it's being, it's asking them to repeat back to you what you've asked them to do, because that's crucial. Children are much more likely to do. What we've asked them to do if they have said it. So that's a crucial, crucial part.

So often we bombard and we fire out these requests for our children, for things that we want them to do, but we haven't actually checked in with them that they've understood and taken that on board. Now, if we're asking our children to do something within a timeframe that's quite. maybe later in the day or it's going to be the next day, then we probably want to make sure that we repeat state one, two, and three.

So repeat again that we've got their attention, be specific in what we've asked them to do and then be clear about the timeframe. So, and asking them to repeat back to us so that it's kept front and center. Children are very in the moment and very present in the moment. And so if we're asking them at nine o'clock in the morning that they need to remember to.

I dunno, their swimming kit together because they go on a swimming lesson at six o'clock in the evening. Then we probably want to make sure that we are asking them regularly to do that unless. Part of that conversation is about getting the swimming kit ready and leaving it by the front door so it is ready for sex.

So it's just thinking through, you know, if it's a timeframe that is going to be long, quite a long timeframe, then it's something that we probably wanna check in with our children more regularly. So we've got, have we got their attention? Have we been super specific? Have we been clear about the timeframe?

Have we asked them to repeat back the request? And then these are much more to do with the things. So, Four things really in the moment. The next three strategies are much more about what we need to make sure that we, we do in order to ensure that these things happen, and that the first is be consistent.

Don't start this process if you are not prepared to be consistent. So for example, you might, you might say, you know what? I want to make sure that my children make their bed every single morning before they go to school. Cause that's really important to me and that's part of the contribution to the house and I'm sick to death of having to make their beds.

That's fine. That is a really, really crucial part of our children being able to make their contribution to the home. And it's a really great discipl. But make sure that you are going to be consistent in the application of that. So you might choose, that is a new thing I want my children to do, but I recognize that maybe starting that during the school term or when I've got this huge project on at work is probably not gonna be great cuz I don't think I'm gonna be consistent in applying that.

So I might choose. To look at this particular thing in a holiday period of time where I know that I can be much more consistent in it. In doing all of the things that I've been asked about, making sure I've got their attention, being specific, being clear, and asking them to repeat what they need to do. I think I'm gonna be better at doing that in this timeframe because I know that I, I won't have these additional distractions then.

Great. Do that. That's what's so crucial to a lot of these things is. Just thinking through, giving ourself a moment to reflect on, this is what I would like to do, but how real, how. You know, how likely is it that I can be consistent in the application at this time? Doesn't mean you're not, you are an inconsistent parent.

It's just about being really clear. Am I taking on too much right now? Can I actually implement this right now, or do I have to accept that I'm gonna need to ride that particular aspect out with my children? At the moment, I'm not gonna ask them to do that because I know I can't be consistent in applying it, but it's something I'm going to battle.

It's, it's something on my to-do list, but it's maybe number three or number. So it's really, if you're going to kind of really start implementing these strategies, then ask yourself, can I be truly consistent? And if I can't right now, choose something else that you know that you can be more consistent with.

Because consistency is the crucial bit. Consistency is what will give you the tipping point. Rather than being sporadic and sometimes doing it and sometimes not. So, number five is being consistent, and number six is always follow through and it's not following you through with punishments. If you haven't listened to my episode on that, go back and listen to why I don't think punishments work.

And it's much more about consequences, but following through on those consequences. So going back to the previous example, go up and brush your teeth cuz in 15 minutes it's bedtime. We wanna do our bedtime. You can then be consistent in following through. And if your children haven't done their teeth, if they, if you've been consistent and clear that if the consequence of that, the knock on effect of them not brushing their teeth in time is that they lose some of their bedtime story time because lights out are always at seven 30 and it's now seven 15 and they haven't done their teeth, and so you've really only got maybe five minutes or 10.

To be able to do that, then always follow through with those consequences. As a result of this, this is what's happened. So that our children are really clear around what we've expected of them and also the cons, the natural consequence. If they don't do that, what that has a knock on effect and following through on that.

So that's a really crucial one. And then the seventh one is, remember to praise. Now, your children are not always going to do what you ask them first time, but there are times that they are going to. And times that they're going to make all of the right moves towards doing what you ask them to. And we want to make sure that we praise those.

What we often get caught up in, and of course we do because we're juggling multiple things, is the fact that they're not doing things. And we get cross and we nag and we get frustrated and then we forget to really tune in and to focus in and remember to praise those times that they do. And by doing that, it shifts two things.

The first. It shifts how we feel because our attention then picks up on some the good stuff that they do and we move away from that tendency to always remember the things that our children didn't do. So we sometimes we can over amplify the struggles that we have about our children doing what we want to them to do first time because we own, because we spend so much time reminding them about what we want them to do.

We've forgotten that they've done a whole load of good stuff when we really. A conscious effort to remember, to praise and we praise them, is that we notice the. You know, it's that whole, our attention goes where we focus, and so if we really focus in on the good stuff, we find that actually, do you know what my child does?

What I ask them to do a lot more often than I think, than I remember. Because we tend to just focus on the things that they haven't done when they haven't done what we've asked them to do. So it's remembering to pray. So part of it is it changes how we feel about things. The other part is it then also changes.

For our children because when we praise them and when we use the praise where it's super specific, I like that you did this, that whole descriptive say what you see. It is a great way of encouraging our children to do more of the same without us appearing to nag because it comes from that place of this is so wonderful that you've done this.

And then they bristle with this huge amount of pride that they've been praised and they actively look to do more, and it is really wonderful to see. So let's just go through these. So it's about making sure that we're consistent in our expectations right at the beginning and communicating effectively through these weekly family meetings.

But in the moment, we can follow these seven rules. The first is, have we got their a. Then it's making sure that have we been really specific, used only a few words and have very much taken that emotional naggy tone out, but been much more matter of fact, have we been clear with our children about the timeframe in which we expect them to do it?

And is that timeframe realistic? Have we then asked them to repeat back what we've asked them to do. So those are the four things within those moment. And then it's remembering that we need to be consistent. We need to always follow through with what the consequence that's happened as a result of them not doing that.

And we need to remember to praise. Now, my give this week as always is going to be these top seven strategies in a checklist with space underneath for you to reflect so you can then be focusing in on what you need to do. And so it serves you. You know, natural reminder, but it's also a bit of a working document for you to kind of be checking in in on.

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