I work with a lot of children who don’t always listen to what their parents say. Sound familiar? I have 4 rules for following through that I use whenever I am working with children and I give these to parents to use at home too.

1. Say it and mean it

A common scenario that I often observe is this:

A parent asks their child to pack up, the child keeps playing and the parent either continues to repeat themselves or lets their child keep playing. What do you think will happen the next time the child’s parent asks them to pack up?

Children learn by what others do, not what they say. I always tell my parents that if you are asking your child to do something, make sure you follow through with what you have asked your child to do. Consistency is the key here!

If you have asked your child to pack up, and they haven’t responded the first time, make them pack up! You can use gestures or gentle prompts (eg. putting your hands over their hands and help them pack up). Remember your child has to pack up before they can do anything else.

It is also important that you don’t negotiate with your child! If you have asked them to pack up all the toys, they have to pack up all of the toys. Say the instruction or request once, and then make it happen.

2. Keep it short and simple

If your child hardly ever follows your instructions, I always suggest to parents to break down instructions. For example, asking your child to “Take your socks and shoes off and put your shoes in your cupboard” is a long and complex instruction. If your child isn’t following your instructions, the likelihood that they will follow this one is small. I suggest to break down the instruction like this:

“Take your shoes off”

“Take your socks off”

“Take your shoes to your room”

“Put your shoes in your cupboard”

It is a lot easier to follow through with simple instructions AND it gives you a lot more opportunities to praise your child. After they have followed one instruction, make sure you let them know what a great job they are doing before giving them the next instruction!

3. If you can’t follow through, don’t ask

There will be instances when you are pressed for time, need to rush out the door or are just exhausted. If you need your child to put on their jacket and your child engages in a tantrum when you ask them to do this, don’t ask. Help them put on their jacket, because the chances are that you won’t be able to wait out their tantrum if you need to get to an important appointment.

4. If you have asked and you can’t follow through, remove the demand or request ASAP

There will be times that you have asked your child to do something and then you realize that you can’t follow through with it. Like if you have to rush out the door and you asked your child to put on their jacket. This is ok! The important thing to remember is to remove the request or demand as soon as you can.

If your child has been crying for 10 minutes because you asked them to put on their jacket, and you then tell them that they don’t have to, guess what your child will do the next time you ask them to put on their jacket? It is better to tell them straight away that they don’t have to. This way you aren’t strengthening their tantrum behaviour.


4 Rules for Following Through