Parents can often find themselves stuck in arguments with their children, defending their right to make lasagna on a Tuesday. The argument starts with a simple request. Before you make that request, ask yourself whether it is a direction that NEEDS to be followed or if it is a choice. A common trap is asking your child to engage in behavior that is not a choice. Examples include "Are you ready to go to bed?", "Can you get your jacket on?", "Can you get your lunchbox?". If it's not a choice where the child can do or not do the behavior, then don't provide the opportunity for them to say, "No". When we ask a question, we leave "No" open as a valid response. Children have to go to bed, they have to brush their teeth, they have to go to eat lunch and put on jackets in cold weather. These are directions that need to be followed, not choices for the child to make. Be careful how you phrase your directions.
Giving a non-preferred direction can bring out inappropriate behavior. Who wants to brush their teeth and go to bed when Spongebob is on TV? When you are met with behavior that is defiant or oppositional, resist falling into the trap of creating an argument. Parents can easily begin this downward spiral with phrases like, "How many times do I have to say...", "Why do you never listen the first time.....", or "Because I said so...". These conversations usually result in a back and forth argument about household injustices and assertions of parental control. They delay the onset of the task and it becomes much better to engage in the argument than to do what the child didn't want to do in the first place. There is a better way.
First check for understanding by asking the child, "What do I need you to do?" This question will focus the dialogue on the task as well as ensure that the child's response communicates that he or she heard the direction. If your child repeats the direction back to you, you know they understood and you can reinforce the good listening they did and prompt to complete the task. If your child does not repeat the direction, or provides you with a different direction, you can simply restate the direction and check for understanding again. This can be done many times. Rather than engage in argumentative dialogue about necessity, responsibility and the failings of the household, continue to redirect arguments back to the task by checking for understanding. This method works surprisingly well to get non-compliant children to engage in tasks they would much rather argue about. Remember, if there is only one person arguing--it's not an argument. Redirect--do not engage. Do not get caught up in emotional exasperation. Just continue to ask, "What do you need to do?" Tell them what to do!