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.


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