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Mama Drama: Direction Following Folly

Dear Mama Drama:

My three-year-old son struggles with following directions and becomes stiff and unresponsive when he doesn’t want to do what is asked of him. We end up either letting him get away with not following directions or having to physically force him to follow them. Neither strategy is really working and he tends to fight back when we try to force him.

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The behavior usually happens when he is being asked to stop something more interesting or fun (like playing) and switch to a task that is less interesting to him (like cleaning up or washing his hands for dinner). I think it may be a learned behavior as his dad also shuts down and won’t talk when frustrated.

I am struggling to support him and have no idea what to do.

~Stumped Mama

Dear Stumped:

It is fairly common for

Mama Drama: Getting Kids to Tune In

Dear Mama Drama:

I have three children ages 2, 4, and 6. I struggle so much to get them to listen to me when I am giving directions or asking them questions. They don’t even listen when I’m trying to do something for them like fix a meal and give them a choice about something. I get so frustrated that I end up yelling at them.

This is clearly not working, but I don’t know what else to do.

~Tuned Out Mama

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Dear Tuned Out:

It is extremely frustrating when your kids don’t listen to you. Sticking with the same old patterns of repeating directions and yelling, however, will only bring the same results. You’ll have to change your approach in order to change their response.

First make sure you have their attention before you give any information. Go to where they are, say their name, get down to their level, and obtain eye contact. Some children need a physical touch such as a hand on their shoulder to move their attention from the activity in which they are engaged.

Give clear, concise directions. Know what you are going to say before you say it and use developmentally appropriate language. Limit the number of directions you give at one time again depending on the developmental level of the child to whom you are speaking.

Remember to support your child through the task. Your two year old will need more support and supervision than the six year old, but don’t expect the six year old to be completely independent.

Encourage your children even when they are not completely successful. Recognize the small steps along the way as they work toward a larger goal.

Natural consequences to not listening can also be very effective. If you are asking if they want pretzels or carrots for snack and they don’t respond, they don’t get a snack.

Sometimes hearing the same old directions in the same old way gets boring and is easy to tune out. Make a silly rhyme or sing the directions. If your kids needs to pick up toys make it into a game by racing the clock. Pretend you are on a safari and use your hands and binoculars to search out items to be captured.

Your six year old should be able to understand opposites so have him do exactly the opposite of what you say such as, “Don’t go into that bathroom and brush your teeth.” or “You had better not put those dirty clothes in the hamper, they belong on they floor.” Kids think this is hilarious and are eager to disobey and do the opposite.

Remember that if you expect a behavior you have to teach it. And you’ll need to reinforce, re-teach, and reinforce it many times before each child has mastered that skill. Have fun, be silly, and help yourself and your kids not take things so seriously.

What tricks do you use to get your kids to listen?