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Is It Normal to Repeat Instructions Over and Over?

Written by: Nanny Secours

November 4, 2020

Many parents have to keep repeating the same instructions to their children on a daily basis. Are you one of them? This can be very frustrating and, over time, affect your relationship with your kids. Here’s how you can overcome this problem.

Be Patient

First, keep in mind that children need time to grasp new concepts. They need to hear and see several times what must be done, then practise. Before knowing how to walk properly, you learned to roll over, crawl, stand up, and walk clumsily. Remember mistakes are opportunities to learn.

Say What You Want to See

“Don’t touch that, don’t do that, stop it…” A lot of parents tend to intervene mainly when their child is exhibiting a bad behaviour. But because their brain is still immature, children have a hard time resisting their impulses and foresee the consequences of their actions. For the same reason, it’s difficult for kids to understand negative statements. So, rather than saying “Don’t throw your toy car,” you can say something like “Your car is meant to roll.” This way, your child will know exactly what is allowed and how to do it.  

If It’s Forbidden, It’s Appealing

Imagine you receive an unexpected package on which it’s indicated to open it in three weeks. Would it pique your curiosity? Probably! The same phenomenon happens when you forbid your children from touching grandma’s ornaments or sticking their tongue on a frozen metal pole!

Take the time to explain to your little ones why they should follow these rules. Even better, stimulate their intellect by playing “What would happen if…?” With this game, your children will learn without even realizing it. Thus, you can help them slowly develop their ability to reason. While you’re at it, why not ponder unlikely or far-fetched situations? 

Control Your Emotions

Avoid overreacting when your children don’t follow your rules. This might make them want to do it again just to see if you’re going to blow up every time. Your intense reaction could also give them the attention they were seeking. Furthermore, an outburst of anger will only scare your little ones, and they won’t be able to learn anymore since their brain will be too busy dealing with the stress experienced.    

Act Preventively

Don’t wait until your daughter is about to burn her hands on the fireplace to intervene. Instead, try to identify potential dangers beforehand and tell her the rules that are important to follow for her safety or for the home to run smoothly. Allow your children to experiment so they can learn better. For example, if you’re using knives in the kitchen and your son wants to give you a hand, show him the blade is sharp. Then, advise him to move slowly around you when you’re cooking or ask him to use a utensil that is better suited if he really wants to help you.    

Use a Few Effective Strategies

If your son didn’t do what you asked him to, you should consider whether your instructions were easy to understand. Did you take the time to move closer to him, say his name or put your hand on his shoulder, and establish visual contact? Were your instructions concise and clear? Did you use motivating, positive and precise terms? Did you ask one thing at a time to avoid confusion? If your instructions didn’t incorporate all these elements, maybe it wasn’t the listener’s fault, but the speaker’s!

To avoid constantly repeating the tasks your child must do in the morning and evening, you can use illustrated routines to make the process easier. The idea is to compile all the instructions you frequently say in the morning and evening and include images for younger children or lists for older ones. This way, your kids can refer to this tool, which will help them become more independent. If you show your children these routines are motivating and fun, they will want to use them more.  

You can also put visual reminders throughout the house. For example, instead of always telling my kids to wash their hands after using the toilet, I placed an image of a child washing his hands over the toilet paper roll. This technique was more effective than my persistent reminders and was way less irritating for the whole family!

Stop Repeating: Act!

Some parents tell me they repeat the same instructions a dozen times before acting. Unfortunately, the more you repeat, the more tense you become and the more likely you are to lose your good will and intention to teach. And as for your children, they quickly understand they’re granted an extension before you concretely do something.  

In my opinion, it’s acceptable to repeat twice, but after that, I suggest you start acting. Prepare a logical and appropriate consequence that is proportional to the instructions which weren’t followed and put it into action. For instance, if your son keeps throwing his toys everywhere while near other children, take away the objects he wasn’t using correctly after you’ve given him the opportunity to change his behaviour. If your daughter refuses to brush her teeth before going to bed, subtract the amount of time that was lost before accomplishing this task from the reading session with you that usually follows.    

 

Is it more advantageous for your children to quickly follow your instructions or not? Obviously, if they benefit more from acting however they want, they’ll keep doing that. On the contrary, if you warmly congratulate them when they’re responsive to your requests, they will start acting more quickly. Reinforcement is much more successful than consequences when dealing with an unwanted behaviour. Focus on the positive and your children will cooperate more!  

 

Laury Boisvert
Family coach and psychoeducator
Founder of Coaching familial La Lanterne
Member of Réseau Nanny secours