How To Break The Exhausting Habit Of Repeating Requests With Your Children

In last week’s article on Spring Cleaning your parenting toolbox, I discussed four ways we can detect parenting tools that need to be updated. In this article, we explore how to improve on a commonly used, but exhausting approach to getting children to listen.

How often do you hear yourself saying these things?

  • Hey guys, please pick up your toys for me.
  • Why do I have to keep reminding you to pick up your stuff?
  • PLEASE clean up your toys for me. I am asking nicely.
  • Didn’t I ask you to pick up your toys? Why do I have to keep doing this?
  • How many times do I have to ask you to pick me up?
  • Why haven’t you picked up those toys? I am not going to repeat myself.
  • Look! I am tired of asking you to pick up? DO IT NOW!
  • I am NOT going to ask you again! PICK UP YOUR STUFF!

If this sounds like your home, then an easier, more cooperative future is just a brave step away!

In my work with families, I often ask parents to hide the video camera and record a “typical” afternoon or evening at home. I do this when parents are reporting lots of frustration and making little progress when they should be making more headway with the negative behaviors in their home.

Here’s what is often revealed. When mom or dad reports that they have to remind the kids a few times, the video reveals that many instructions are repeated five to ten times! And, as you would expect, each repetition comes with an increase in parent frustration, an increase in volume, and an increase in threatening language.

LIFE RULE #1: If mom or dad repeat, children keep repeating their behavior.

Let me explain. When your only parenting tool is to keep repeating the same (or similar) words over and over, you are destined to keep getting the same result over and over.

If you keep repeating requests that have no consequence attached, then you will find that your children often learn that your words simply mean MORE WORDS ARE COMING!

You might be thinking that your children should listen to your words. Yet, you find that they don’t.

So instead of clinging to a ‘should’ that has no basis in the reality you live at home, why not notice that your strategy is not working. It’s a losing strategy…IF your desire is respectful, cooperation at home. This repeating and repeating and repeating not only lead to frustration on your part, but an even more painful future awaits you (More about this next week).

For now, please remember this: If you want your words to be heard by your children, for many children this will require a shift in your behavior. Many of us ‘lead’ our parenting with words– rather than action. This is a mistake, and one commonly ‘sold’ to you on talk shows and magazines.

Just test what it’s like turning things around. Instead, lead with your actions, and let words follow. When you do this, your words will then take on meaning with your children. You won’t have to keep repeating yourself over and over. Let’s quickly make this concrete, using the example above.

Updated Parenting Tool #1:

“I will ask once, and give you a few minutes to pick up. If you don’t pick it up, I will pick it up you without complaint- but you lose all of it for 2 days. No second chances.”

Okay, when you do this, you must follow consistent action. And, you must ignore the drama that unfolds after you put the toys (remote, video, etc) into a bag for two days.

Also, you take this action with no anger or frustration. You have explained the new rule, and now you simply honor it with quiet resolve.

Then watch what happens over the next few weeks. You will find your words begin to have meaning, and your repetition drops dramatically. More ease and peace will follow.

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