You have heard me discuss the power of positive phrasing in several of my other articles. I am going to summarize these strategies here and then discuss how to use redirection, a powerful tool for getting positive behavior results, to go along with your new-found strategy set.
One of the best strategies for getting kids to listen is removing negative words like no, stop, don’t, and can’t, and replacing them with specific directives and goals tied to some form of acknowledgement or praise.
Children respond best when given a specific directive, “Put the toy in your desk,” “Turn off the computer,” “Put on your pajamas,” etc.
When able to work towards a specific goal (e.g., “Put your laundry in your drawers; then you can play your video game.”)
I have often heard adults say, “He only listens if I yell at him.” If you use these strategies you will not have to yell. The only thing you have to make sure you do is follow through on what you say. If the rule is “Put your laundry in your drawers, then you can play your video game.” and your child goes to play the game, restate the rule. “You have to put your laundry in your drawers before can play your video game.” Make sure you stick to your rule even if he cries or tries to argue. Don’t spend too much time discussing it. Restate it once or twice and then tell your child that you have already discussed it and he needs to complete what was asked. Throwing in an empathetic statement is also helpful when your child tries to argue, such as “I understand you are upset because you want to play your game now, but you need to put your clothes away first.” Beyond that, don’t go back and forth with your child about what he needs to do. Also make sure to keep your end of the agreement, after the child does what is required, so your child has faith that he will get to do what he enjoys after the task is completed. If he does not believe that you will let him play his video game he probably won’t listen when you tell him to put his clothes away.
This same strategy can be implemented in the classroom, such as “Finish writing your spelling words, and then pick a book to read with a friend.”
Stay away from making negotiations. If the rule is to put the laundry in the drawers before the game, then that is the rule. If your child will not put the laundry in the drawers, you can’t then say, “Okay, I’ll do it today, but you have to promise to do it tomorrow, go play your game.” This teaches your child that you don’t mean what you say and he will not take your rules seriously. He will always challenge you, hoping you will eventually bend. Make sure your demands are appropriate for the child’s age and skills level. For example, you can’t expect most 3-year-olds to put all their laundry away without specific guidance from the parent.
Also, children often do not follow your direction if you ask them to do what you want them to do. “Can you put the toy in your desk?”, “Can you sit in your seat?”, “Can you put your coat on now?” Asking children if they “can” do something that they are required to do, takes away from your authority. It is not up to them. Using the word “can” allows them to say “no,” and then you are left arguing with them that they need to do something that you gave them a choice about.
So how does the use of redirection fit into these strategies?
Redirection is another way to phrase things in the positive and give a specific direction to get what you want. The best thing about redirection is that it allows you to pull the child’s mind away from the behavior you are trying to discourage and refocus it on something else. Here is an example:
Let’s say you come in the room and your child is coloring on the wall. You tell him to stop and he continues to do it.
What went wrong? The negative language you used “stop” is very difficult for children to follow because they are so excited about what they are doing and can’t think of an alternative. They don’t want to stop because they are having too much fun. So…give them another fun thing to think about to take their mind off what they are doing. You could say, let’s go play a game, or let’s go color in your coloring book together. These are perfect examples of redirection. It is likely that the child will be happy that you asked to do something with him, and forget that they were enjoying drawing on the wall. Even if you can’t interact with your child in the moment, you can suggest something else fun like “go play with your jump rope”, “jump on the trampoline” or “watch your favorite movie.” Sometimes simply saying, “here is some paper, draw on this” can help (you can even tape the paper to the wall) to keep it fun or redirect them to draw on an easel if you have one. In my 16 years working with children, I have found redirection to be an extremely powerful tool in deterring negative behaviors.
Teachers can use redirection as well. When a child is talking when he is supposed to be writing, it is much more effective to use redirection, “finish writing your sentence”, than to say “stop talking.”
Redirection is a very powerful tool in getting kids to listen. Try it for yourself in all kinds of scenarios.
If you have read all of my behavior articles to this point, you now have the building blocks for changing behavior!
- Use empathetic Statements (read more about empathetic statements in our article How to Prevent Tantrums by Changing the Way You Say No)
- Give Choices such as “Do you want an apple or a yogurt?” (read more about giving choices in our article How to Prevent Tantrums by Changing the Way You Say No)
- Use short directives phrased in the positive (tell the child what you want him to do, not what you don’t want him to do.)
- Have your child work towards earning something rewarding
- Acknowledge positive behaviors with specific language (Read about this in my article, How to Use Praise with Children to Achieve Positive Behavior Results)
- Prepare your child for changes (read more about this in my articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, and Effective Behavior Strategies for Autism and More!)
- Use redirection
- Stick to your rules
Please share this article if you think it will help others!
As a school psychologist, I served as a behavioral and educational consultant to parents and school staff and determined eligibility for special education services. I have also worked as a tutor, assistant teacher, residential counselor, and mobile therapist.
I have extensive experience with adults and children with special needs such as ADHD, autism, Down's syndrome, learning disabilities, and emotional disabilities..
I founded www.educationandbehavior.com to help adults provide effective learning and behavior support to children with and without special needs. Many of our strategies can also be used to support adults with special needs.
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