More than likely this is not a new topic for any of you, but it can be helpful to revisit from time to time. I often hear from parents that one of their main concerns is how to get their kids to comply with a request. ‘Why does he ignore me when I tell him it’s time to clean up and go brush his teeth?’ ‘How do I get her to listen right away and come to the dinner table the first time I ask her?’ ‘Will I always have to bribe him with something to get him to do what I ask?’
First, let’s consider what your child may be thinking when you ask him to turn off his video game and come get ready for bed. He may be thinking, ‘But I am so close to beating this level,’ or ‘I didn’t know my time was going to be up so soon’ or ‘Ugh, when will I get to play again?’ or ‘What if I lose my spot in the game?’ However, what he probably says (or yells!) doesn’t necessarily sound like that.
Before asking your child to transition, especially from a highly preferred activity to a non-preferred activity, or to engage in a non-preferred task, it can be helpful to
- provide some warning(s) that the preferred activity will have to stop soon or that the undesired activity will happen soon
- give choices around when the preferred activity will be over or when/how much/what/where the undesired activity will happen
- and/or provide them with better alternative ways of getting out of the task/demand that you have placed
Simple examples of how to ‘warn’ your child that their preferred activity is about to be over are timers (visual or audio), verbal warnings (‘In one minute we have to go brush our teeth’), or other visual stimuli that signals a transition (a picture of the demand that you are placing).
One of my favorite techniques to increase compliance is to provide choices. For example, if I were asking a client to end her break on her Ipad, I might ask, ‘Would you like one more minute or two more minutes of your Ipad time?’ Or if we have a non-preferred activity to complete, I might ask, ‘Would you like to do 10 minutes of reading or 12 minutes?’ In both of these scenarios, the difference between the choices is minimal. When children are given choices (even when the choices still result in having to engage in the non-preferred activity), we tend to see less undesired behaviors such as protesting, avoiding, etc.
Lastly, when we are able to, we can provide our children with better ways to get out of doing something. For example, if you ask your child to clean up the Lego structure he just built and he begins protesting or crying, you might say ‘You could ask me if it is okay to leave the Legos out for now.’ What you are teaching is how to more appropriately avoid a non-preferred task/demand. Obviously there will be times when this is not an option. Remember to pick you battles and choose which tasks are most important to you and which are ones you can give a little on.