What to say to get kids to do (almost) anything

Have you got an angel child who ALWAYS does what they're told? You won't need this then...

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Can’t get your child to eat their greens, get their school uniform on or pick their toys up? Yep, we’ve ALL been there. Well, fret no more – a new book, Words That Work: How To Get Kids To Do Almost Anything, could just solve all these parental woes.

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Author, Alicia Eaton, is a trained psychotherapist who, as a single mum-of-3 also ran her own Montessori school. So we reckon it’s fair to say she might know a thing or two about how kids tick.

When it comes to the day to day stuff that can really bring family life down at times, like squabbles over dinner or arguments about how much TV they can watch, Alice reckons a few simple changes in what you say and even when you say it can make a big difference.

Just dropping the word ‘don’t’ and saying ‘thank you’ BEFORE your child does something rather than after are little tricks she suggests based on techniques around the language of persuasion and influence.

She shared her top 10 techniques with Femail. Here they are (deep breath and TAKE NOTES – these could change your life!)

1. Tell your child what you want them to DO rather than want you DON’T want them to do

Kids are more likely to respond positively to ‘do’ phrases rather than constantly asking them not to do things – which can seem like nagging. Try ‘If we get our uniform on nice and swiftly we can be at school in good time’ rather than ‘Do you have to take so long getting ready? We’ll be late…’

2. Make them think they have a choice

Instead of telling them to get dressed, ask which top they fancy wearing. When it comes to homework, ask if they fancy doing it this evening or tomorrow, now or later – rather than thinking the worst, the assumption they will actually do it should be in there.

3. Talk as though they will do something

By speaking to your child as though they will complete a task you’ve asked them to do, you’re guiding them to do it. So, for example, try: ‘When you’ve tidied up your toys we can go to the park’ or ‘When you’ve done your chores we can watch that movie.’

4. Create a connection with your child through words

This one, says Eaton, is especially useful if you’re going through a tricky time with your child and is all about putting yourself in their place, and them in yours. ‘I reckon you, like me, will feel better when you’ve had a good night’s sleep.’

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5. Say thank you before they’ve even done what you ask

This puts an expectation on them that they will do the task at hand – a great way to get a child to take notice of your request rather than ignore it.

6. Don’t just ask them to do something – explain why you need the to do it, too

Kids aren’t mind-readers and giving them a good reason why it will help when they do something can spur them to do what you’ve asked. So instead of just asking them to help with the shopping bags, explain that you need their help as there are just too many bags for you to bring in in one go.

7. Front-load your sentences with what you want them to do

Words like ‘think about it’ and ‘listen’ are a great to start a sentence and will encourage your child to do just that and can add weight to what you’re asking.

8. Turn a positive into a negative

If they’re moaning they’re tired, or too hot – put a positive spin on it. ‘What would make you feel less tired? Perhaps take a nap?’ Or if they’re a bit older and don’t want to share a bedroom anymore, Eaton suggests you ask the something along the lines of: ‘What do you like about the idea of having your own room?’

9. Front-load your questions 

Again, this one’s about putting a positive spin on the negative – if there’s a problem, ask your child what they think they can do – get them involved in working up a solution. Eaton suggests the following sentences:

‘So, you’ve been feeling worried about your exams – to make yourself aware that you need to do something more about them?’ 

‘So, you’re telling me about how much you hated this year’s maths teacher – so you can begin to look forward to the new one you’ll be having when you go back to school?’

‘So, you’re talking to me about this now – in order to start making some changes?’

10. Try and get them to stop saying ‘can’t’

What your kids can do is changing all the time – they are constantly growing and learning, so get them out of the mindset of thinking they can’t do stuff – maybe they can’t do X yet, but they can do Y and at some point they’ll learn even more.

Alicia Eaton’s book, Words That Work: How To Get Kids To Do Almost Anything is out now, priced £12.99 and available from Success4Kids

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