Giving commands to increase compliance


Does anyone else struggle with getting their children to comply? I’ve talked to many parents and this frustration is definitely on the top of their list!!

I was talking to a parent the other day and we got onto the topic of compliance. This conversation reminded of the BE DIRECT tool we used in PCIT when teaching parents how to give commands to young children. It gave me the idea to share this super helpful and easy method you can use to tweak your language and increase compliance in your children. And who doesn’t want that?

First things first, I want you to identify something that you want your child to start doing.

For example, if sitting at the table during dinner is something that she’s struggling with, then sitting in her chair would be what you want to see.

First, catch her every time she’s sitting in her chair and praise her! Even if it’s not at dinner time. Maybe it’s in the middle of the day.

“I love the way you’re sitting properly in your chair. I also love it when you sit in your chair at dinner.” (If it’s at different time of the day)

“You are being such a big girl sitting in your chair.”

“When you sit in your chair, then we can have so much fun eating dinner together!”

“You are setting such a great example for your little brother by sitting in your chair.”

These are examples, however you choose to praise him or her can be all yours! The only thing I’m going to warn against is sarcastic praise. Avoid praising him/her if they are NOT doing what you ask. Sarcasm is confusing to young children and will not get them to comply.

Now that we know what we want to see, we’re going to talk about direct commands. When talking with your kids, always use direct commands. Avoid indirect commands such as: “Can you put on your shoes?” An indirect commands gives them a clear space to say “no” and then begins the power struggle!

These direct commands are going to increase the chances of compliance. They will also always be followed up with praise after they comply! Even it’s something you expect them to do. There’s nothing wrong with praise! Don’t you love it when your partner thanks you for what you do? I sure do!

Parent Child Interaction Therapy or (PCIT)[1] teaches us the BE DIRECT Acronym to remember what a direct command is. I’m going to breakdown the acronym for you below so you can start using direct commands today!

Be Specific

Tell them exactly what you expect from them. The more specific you are, the more likely they are to comply. Telling thing to “behave” can be unclear, and not measurable!

“Please sit in your dinner chair”

Every command positively stated

When giving a command, Avoid words such as: No, Don’t, Stop, Quit, or Not. This can make the child do the exact thing you’re telling them not to do! This way, the command tells them what to do, rather than what they’re not supposed to do.

Developmentally appropriate

Chose a command that your child can do. We probably wouldn’t have a 3 year old fold and put away their clothes. They could, however put their socks in their drawer.

“Please put your socks in your bottom drawer”

Individual rather than compound

One command at a time. Young children as well as children struggling with attention difficulties will not be able to remember the list of commands you give them. That’s why I often hear, that your children aren’t complying because they don’t follow all the steps. Give one command, follow up with praise when it’s done, and then give the next command.

“Please brush your teeth.”

“Great job brushing your teeth!”

“Please put your shoes on.”

“Thank you for getting your shoes on!”

You get the idea!

Respectful and Polite.

You’ll notice all the commands say please. We are always modeling even when giving commands. We’re modeling manners, and social skills. Kids will be more likely to comply when please is involved!

Essential Commands only

Often kids are bogged down with so many commands that they stop listening. Use commands when it’s essential for them to comply.

Carefully timed explanations

It’s hard for a child to understand why they need to do something way before an event so make give a rationale for the command.

“It’s time to leave for school. Please put on your shoes.”

Tone of voice is neutral

I hear a lot that parents have to yell in order to get their children to listen which then causes the frustration and anger to rise. Given commands in a neutral, matter of fact tone to let them know you mean business without having to yell. You are in charge!

Make sure that when you give these commands, that you follow up with a praise when they comply!! The more they know what to expect when you give them a command, the more likely they’re going to comply.

Use these commands this week, and tell me how it goes!

There are definitely going to be times when your child does not comply, and those times are complicated. When working with non-compliance, I suggest an in person session where we can come up with a plan specific for your child to deal with non-compliance. Feel free to send me an email and we can set up a time to meet.

[1] Urquiza, A., Zebell, N., Timmer, S., McGrath, J., & Whitten, L. (2011) Course of Treatment Manual for PCIT-TC. Unpublished Manuscript.