After Separation


Clear Instructions

Previously we talked about specific praise in response to specific instructions and we want to explore this theme a little more.

To help our children understand what we would like them to do, there are two important things to remember. Firstly, we need to be really clear and specific, and secondly we need to be positive.

Clear instructions are polite; so all our instructions should start with the word “please”. It’s no good demanding of them what we don’t do ourselves…and this starts with being polite.

Interestingly, children take time to process what we ask them. So we need to give them time to think about what we’ve asked them to do…and don’t get cross if it takes a little time for them to process enough to respond.

That means we might need to reorganize our lives a bit. So if it takes them five minutes to put on a pair of shoes, don’t ask them two minutes before you need to head out the door…it may take that long just to process what this means….

Doing too many instructions at once can also be confusing. So we need to be specific and break things down.

For instance instead of saying “tidy your room”, say “please put your books on the shelf”. Then thank them when they do it and ask them to put their toys in the toy box. Then when that is done, to put their dirty clothes in the washing basket, remembering each time to thank them when they’ve done it.

Never do multi-stage commands like “Take your shoes off, get changed out of your school clothes, tidy your room, wash you hands and come down for dinner”. We promise you, all the children heard was “Come down for dinner”.

So do those instructions in a straight forward and logical order… at a time. It makes it a lot simpler for them because often they don’t know what we expect and we appear to get cross if they miss out command number six.


It does take time and it can be tiring but…we all know being a parent is hard work!

And if you can make it fun in any way, do.

One parent found that their son would go into the bath if they pretended he was a train and the bath was a train station. It was messy…but it got the job done.

Another little boy loved cranes and diggers. He enjoyed putting his toys away if he could pretend to be a crane. OK, it takes longer…but everyone is calmer and at peace. Surely thats our end-game? And children learn by playing.

If you have several children you may think your children automatically know how to do things but they may not – for example, they may not know how to toast bread, or how to run a bath. Even simple things like if we want them to hang up their towel after the bath, show them where to hang it and how. You may need to repeat this a few hundred times…but they will get it.

If we’re that specific, they know what we want.

Also children tend to get the last thing you said stuck in their head.

If I said to you, “now, don’t think about elephants” what happens? You’re going to start thinking about elephants. You can’t help it.

Similarly, if we say to a child “Stop running!” The image they have in their head is of running. And they don’t actually process the negative instruction, the ‘stop’. They just keep on running…

So when they’re doing something wrong take a deep breath and think about what we do want them to do.

So for instance, if they’re running down the road, instead of saying “Stop running” say “Please walk slowly on the path”.

And when they do, this will give you an opportunity to praise them specifically. To say “well done for listening to me” or “Well done for walking nicely on the path”.

When we’ve asked them to do something, praise them immediately for what they’ve got right. We’re not expecting perfection. If we’ve asked them to make the bed and they’ve made an attempt at putting the quilt in place. If it’s not perfect, that’s okay. They made the effort. And that’s the main thing.

And you know what….we arent perfect either. And that’s OK too.

Now that we have built a pretty solid foundation with special time, child-led play, specific praise and clear commands, next week we’ll be looking at Rewards and Incentives.