In order to get your child to listen to your instructions, focus on what you want your child to do- not on what you don't want your child to do.  Children hear and process what you keep saying.

If you keep bringing up what you don't want them to do, that is what they hear and then focus on. "Children younger than 5 simply do not understand conjugated verbs such as don't "(Bailey, 2000). So if you say "don't hit" or "don't run", they are hearing the words hit and run. Whatever they hear over and over gets stuck in their brains.  If you say, "Please don't hit your brother. Hitting is bad and hurtful. Go to timeout." The focus is on the hitting and you, therefore, imprint the idea to hit further in their thinking.

Pretend that I say the following to you. "Don't think that you are at the mall or you are seeing an extremely tall man with a polka dot hat. Don't think about the man or the hat. The man also has bright purple pants. He goes over and gets a triple scoop chocolate chip ice cream cone. But don't think about that.  The man then spills his ice cream on the purple pants. Don't think about anything I just said." So of course, what I just said is exactly what you are thinking about. Kids are the same way. 

What you should say is what you want them to do. You also have to say it or model it explicitly enough so that they know exactly what to do. Your instructions should be so clear that the child should be able to play a video and/or audiotape in their head of what they should do.

If they keep grabbing a block from someone else,  you say. "Please give Tom the block back. You can ask for a block or you can go get your own blocks off the shelf. " You can't just say "share" because they obviously need more support in what they should do. 

If they are kicking the couch, you say, "Kicking is fun. We kick balls. You can walk outside right now and kick this ball in the backyard."

So if they whine, you say, "Please use your normal voice which sounds like this". You have to model what voice you want because, it is very likely, they don't know what you mean by a "normal voice".

Children use whatever skills they possess. If you tell them don't do something, they are going to keep doing it because that is the only skill they have. If you tell them what you do want, you are teaching them a new skill.


Bailey, B. (2000). Conscious Disciplines. Oviedo: Loving Guidance.

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