Difficulty Getting Kids to Listen to Your Requests? Try Communication by Agreement

Posted October 6, 2008 by

Have you ever noticed how kids are so literal? It seems that at times you must be very literal when communicating with them in order to have a clear understanding of what is expected.

I’ll give you an example: once I asked my daughter, Ashleigh, “Will you be sure to clean your room this afternoon?” Of course, throughout the afternoon the room was not cleaned. When I inquired about the status of the room-cleaning project she said, “You asked me to clean my room this afternoon, well, it is still afternoon and I’ll get to it soon.” I’m sure this has happened to everyone at one time or another.

After this type of dialogue with my kids occurred a few too many times, I looked for a different way to change the outcome of my requests by being as literal with them as they were with me. I decided to change my request to sound something like this: “Ashleigh, I would like you to clean your room. Please pick up the clothes from the floor, put fresh sheets on your bed, vacuum and dust, clean your bathroom, and don’t forget to replace the towels. I expect the room to look like you are going to have company. Can you please have this accomplished by 2:00 this afternoon?” I waited for a clear acknowledgment to my request– both a physical response, which would be eye contact, and a verbal response. I realized that both must be present with kids in order to know that the request registered.

This worked much better. Having a clear agreement in place created a higher level of expectation that the request would be fulfilled and there was no misunderstanding of what was required for completion. The thoughtful steps are as follows:

1. Clearly state what’s wanted.
2. Clarify expectations.
3. State time for completion.
4. Acknowledge the agreement
5. Celebrate the accomplishment.

Notice how character is strengthened, trust is developed, reliability is determined, and empowerment is created. I think that step number five ties it all together. I got the chance to praise my daughter and celebrate her cooperative attitude while she received acknowledgment for the splendid appearance of her room. It is important to observe how using all the ingredients above creates a habit of cooperation, notice that by eliminating any of the ingredients could result in a different outcome the next time a request is made.

I believe that communication by agreement is a great method to use to foster more harmonious relationships, resolving conflicts, and maintaining neutrality when communicating with teenagers.


Frank Brogni is a life coach and Parent Blogger for EP

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  1. GC Report

    I did not respond in the expected way with our daughter one day, the shock and realization on her face was actually quite comical! I later heard her say to her twin brother ”I wish she’d ‘tell me something’ so I can give her hell” I never have dignified tantrums from children, not even children with special needs! I breathe in slowly, out slowly and do something else to take my focus away from my feelings. I sometimes ostensibly have an errand to run. The tantrum is not the child, I remember that when my girl kicks off, I remember the sweet child who is in there.

  2. Frank Brogni Report

    Gayla, you’re right! My experience with my kids has been that when emotion and anger are introduced it is difficult to get anything accomplished. I would not be pulled into this type of engagement nor did I take it personally. I have found that being defiant and disrespectful is usually a learned tactic to deter a parent from achieving what they’re trying to accomplish and should be met with firm declarations that disrespect and bad langauage will not tolerated. I would also add, “The sooner you calm down and accomplish what I ask, the more I will be open to consider those things you might ask for.” I have always felt that kids didn’t come to us knowing how to be disrespectful, they learned how and can just as well un-learn how. Hang in!

  3. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Frank, I love the idea of stating specific expectations and also giving a time limit. I’ve been trying this with my 5 year old son, and it’s really helped cut down on my having to nag him (which I don’t like doing) and also, it gives him a sense of pride when he’s done.

  4. Gayla Report

    I need help with ODD. I have both Total Transformation and Total Focus and have found both to be helpful but everything falls apart when the defiance and talking back does not stop.



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