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Mama’s World – Why Do I Ask Them Five Times Before They Obey?

Last night I asked my son five times to go brush his teeth before I could read him a bedtime story, but my pleas went unheeded.

Of course this is not the first time that my requests have fallen on deaf ears. Most parents I know have some version of this complaint. It is a good question: why don’t children just do what we say the first time we say it?!

It looks like we don’t have shared priorities or what we consider important at that time is not what they consider important. For instance, while I was keen for my son to brush his teeth and get to bed before 8am, what seemed important to him at that time was doing summersaults on the bed.

One way around this situation was to first connect with him by recognising his summersault exploits and acknowledging his priorities and then, give him a warning that I am about to overrule his agenda with my own. Sadly, on the summersaults I am not about to join in that fun.

Secondly, we need to desist from yelling and threatening our children for them to pay attention. Our children are no dummies. They know they can milk extra time if they just ignore us. However, we should not train them that we are not serious until we yell. I have noticed that my children pay more attention to their teachers’ directives and rarely get away with disobedience.

It must be something connected to how teachers give direction. We need to ensure that we don’t give directives until we have made eye contact, so that they know that we are serious. We need to follow through otherwise, we train them not to take our requests seriously.

Another way we can support our children to listen more to us is by helping them to make the transition. When I am engrossed in something, either a good movie or news bulletin, it is hard to pull myself away and attend to a whining child. Equally for the children, to pull themselves away from that favourite cartoon to go take a shower or eat dinner can be difficult.

We could start by giving one warning. When we go back in five minutes, we can connect again by commenting on his project: “Wow, look at those trains go!” Remind him of your deal: “Ok, sweetie, it’s been five minutes. Remember our deal? Five minutes and no fuss. It’s bath time now.” Then, create a bridge from his play to what you are asking: “Do you want the two engines to leap off the track and race all the way to the bathroom? Here, I’ll take this one and you take that one Let’s zoom!”

Their ability to switch gears from what they want to what we want is still underdeveloped. Every time you set a limit that requires your child to give up what she wants in order to do what you want, she has to make a choice.

When she decides that her relationship with you is more important than what she wants at this moment, she follows your request. Every time she does that, she is strengthening her brain’s ability to rein herself in. That is how children develop self-discipline.

But this only works if your child switches gears, somewhat willingly. If you drag her kicking and screaming, she is resisting, rather than choosing. She is not building those self-discipline neural pathways. That is why there is a ‘self’ in self-discipline. It is chosen from inside.

Source : The Observer

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The Disability Law and Rights Centre (DLRC), School of Law, Makerere University with support from
The Disability Law and Rights Centre (DLRC), School of Law, Makerere University with support from

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