May 31, 2020

COOPERATION: Tell — Don’t Ask

“We find what we expect to find, and we receive what we ask for.” Elbert Hubbard, editor, publicist and writer

Do you wonder how the sequence of cooperation starts? Often it goes like this:

  1. Johnny (6 years old) would you cleanyour bed room?”
  2. Then often a few seconds later, Johnny would you pleeeese pick up your bedroom?”
  3. Finally, usually after more times of asking, in a loud voice: Go do it now; how many times do I have to tell you to pick
    up your bed room?”

This happens in the context of Johnny hearing their parents ask others (our spouse) for something; the spouse may reply with “no I am too busy right now.”

In addition, there are some contexts in which Johnny is asked to help in the kitchen; he can say “No, I am busy coloring” and that’s the end of it. In this example he had an option; in the first one he did not.

How can cooperation be initiated better?   Following are  guidelines:

  • Be specific — Pick up your socks and put them in the laundry. This is doable and increases the possibility of success.
  • One task at a time Cleaning a room can be overwhelming. Cleaning a room is often several specific processes such as: Put your dirty clothes in the hamper. When that is done, then say: put these 6 toys on the closet shelf.  The younger the child, the more important it is to stick with one task at a time. The less often the child cooperates the more important this point becomes.
  • Give the child time to cooperate — Tell, then wait at least 30 seconds but no longer than 90 seconds before the next step. Parents often will tell a child to do a task and then tell again seconds later. For most tasks (the exception is if they need to stop something dangerous) give them at least 30 seconds to hear what you have said and to change gears. Giving longer than 90 seconds, introduces the legitimacy of the child’s excuse “I forgot.”
  • Tell don’t ask — you are in charge of your home;   some things are not optional. Just tell, eliminate the confusion. As adults, we can usually tell the difference  when our boss is asking for real or tells us using
    a question to make it more polite. This difference is not easy for kids. Which questions are they allowed to say “no” to and which ones are really orders? How can they know the difference? To further  complicate this, kids hear others asking and getting a NO response. If dad can say “no” why can’t I?
  • It is ok to “ask” “Johnny would you please brush your teeth?”Just be willing to accept no as the answer. “No mom not tonight.”
  • Please is an ask word Don’t use it when you are telling. Yes teach your kids to be polite but not by confusing them. When you are actually telling them, when they have no options, don’t use please.
  • Be close Move closer to your child. Don’t tell from the other side of the room or another level of the house. Use a matter of fact, not harsh, voice. Ideally you want cooperation with a simple telling; so that is where you have to start.

This is the first step in cooperation. Remember to tell, don’t ask. Be patient and be pleased with small steps. Keep counting.

Next week: Focus on effective encouragement when children cooperate or just do something positive on their own.

Bill