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How to Give Kids Directions that are Followed

How to Give Kids Directions that are Followed

Your director parenting role is to teach your children to become responsible and capable by learning important life skills, such as cleaning up after themselves, using respectful language, making commitments and sticking to them, getting along with others, and following rules set by authority.

I encourage discussing these important values with your children as you keep in mind that they may not embrace your values right away.

If you are having difficulty getting your kids to respond to your directions, you are probably either too commanding, too pleasing or a combination of both.  A minor shift in your language may be all you need to improve your children’s positive response rate.

Commanding language often feels like a challenge to a strong-willed child and can lead to defiance. Provoking statements often start with “I want you to…..”, “You need to…..” and “You’re supposed to….”

Just as ineffective are attempts at softening the potential emotional outburst from your children by adding “Please”, “OK”, and “Would you”, to your directions. You may also use these “weakening” words because you want to be nice to your children. You can be respectful without pleasing your kids at the same time. A directive is not a joint problem to discuss. Politeness is best expressed by your caring tone of voice and respectful demeanor.

The problem is that these “pleasing” words turn your directions into requests that can easily be ignored. You do not need the child’s approval.

Rather, your goal is to get their acknowledgement and agreement that they have heard you and that they will cooperate with you.

Here are examples of giving directives that can be weakened when you say, “OK”, “please”, or “would you?” especially with strong-willed children.

“You need to turn off the T.V. now. OK? “

“Would you please put your toys away? “

“I want you to eat your dinner before you have dessert. OK?

“Please clean the bathroom before you go to your friend’s house.”

“You can be on the computer for 30 minutes, OK?”

Be aware that children respond best to effective directives when they feel emotionally connected to you. Make sure you are spending time listening to your kids and playing with them. If they are having a hard time responding to you, make sure you are an effective listener. Read other articles to learn this important communication skill. You create change through connection and influence, not control.

The most effective strategy to direct children is by using the “just the facts” approach. The approach may not seem “nice.” They are respectful and caring which is more important and effective.

You are not asking, pleading, or trying to please in order to get your needs met. You are simply stating the expectation in a calm and direct manor. This eliminates arguing and your children using tantrums to manipulate you. Avoid getting mad at your kids if they complain. That’s their job. Your director role is to set up structure so they can successfully learn the life skills you are trying to teach them.

Give your directions with total confidence that your respectful and reasonable directive will be done.

Remember that when you change how you interact with your kids, you will bring out a more positive response from them. You will be amazed at how cooperative your kids will be when you speak with respectful authority to them.

Here are examples of the “just the facts” approach:

“It’s time to turn off the T.V. “

“Toys need to be put away now.”

“After you clean the bathroom, then you can go to your friends’ house. “

“You can be on the computer for 30 minutes. Do you understand?”

“It’s time to feed the dog.”

Do not yell or sound irritated that you have to repeat the directive. Also, do not respond with “How many times do I have to tell you.” If they complain and ask why or try to argue, do not engage. Parents get trapped into thinking they need to answer “why” whenever it is asked. Your kids know why so just calmly and respectfully shorten your directions and repeat the expectation.

If you are giving directions with confidence, not commanding or pleasing, then three times should be enough at first. Soon, repeating only once will be sufficient. This approach is particularly effective with teenagers who love to argue. Saying fewer words is better than explaining yourself.

“T.V off”.

“Toys away.”

“Dinner first then dessert.”

“Bathroom cleaned then friends.”

“30 minutes, only.”

Everyone will feel happier when you are not nagging your kids and they know you will not be swayed by them. Whew! What a relief!

The language you use is crucial. Learn about words that create power struggles by reading my article Stop Parent-Child Power Struggles by Stopping These Words

Would you like to learn about how to parent different children. Check out Elizabeth’s book The Enneagram of Parenting.

©2015 Cynthia Klein, Bridges 2 Understanding, has been a Family Success Coach since 1994. She works with parents and organizations who want more cooperation, mutual respect and understanding between adults and children. Cynthia presents her expertise through speaking, private parenting coaching sessions, and her book, Ally Parenting: A Non-Adversarial Approach to Transform Conflict Into Cooperation. She works with parents of 5 – 25 year-old children.

To learn how Cynthia can help you solve your specific challenges, contact Cynthia at,,  or 650. 679.8138 to have a complementary 45-minute discovery session. Why keep suffering? It’s time to change!


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