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  • Dr. Chrissy Stabler

8 Ways to Improve Compliance In Children:

The million dollar question I hear time and time again is "how do I get my child to respond after asking them the first time?" There is no one fits all answer; however, there are general guidelines that can improve the likelihood of compliance.


1) Phrase instructions as directives: It is important to tell children specifically what you need them to do. "Put away your toys and put them in the basket" is more likely to get a response than, "can you please put your toys in the basket?" Questions give children the chance to say no.


2) Get close in proximity and on their level. Being in close physical proximity to children and on their level is associated with greater compliance. Being next to a child is far better than shouting from across the room. Children are just more responsive when they feel like you are talking directly to them in a collaborative and supportive way.


3) Use a quiet tone. Being firm does not mean you have to yell. Think about it as an adult, are you more like to respond to someone who is yelling at you or asking in a calm manner?


4) Use eye contact. While this may get complicated if a child has a developmental disorder, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder, neurotypical children show high compliance rates when they look at you during the instruction. Simply stating "Sara, look at me" can ensure your child is focused and ready for the instruction.


5) Give time to process: Children need a 5-10 second period following the directive to process what they were told. Also, remember to keep instructions short. This can be lengthened as children get older or as their working memory improves.


6) Be specific: Tell them exactly what you need them to do, while trying to not be too wordy. For example, saying "clean your room" does not provide expectations of what children are being asked to do. Instead, it is better to say "pick up your clothes and put them in the hamper."


7) Use more "start" requests than "stop" requests. This means that you will be more successful when you tell a child what you want them to do rather than what you want them to stop. This is also known as phrasing statements in a positive manner. For example, instead of saying "stop talking" you say "be quiet."


8) Remove your emotion. Try to be a nonemotional as possible. The second that you lose control of your emotions, the child is in control of the situation. Be as matter-of-fact as possible.



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Chrissy B. Stabler, Ph.D.

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