‘How many times have I asked you to do this?’ This is the thought every parent has after hopelessly trying to get their child to complete a task. Whether it’s cleaning their room, picking up their toys, or something as simple as say ‘please’, all can prove to be a daunting task at times. For a child with special needs the task may seem more simple to the general public, such a as request for the child to repeat a word, but it is just as difficult as getting a 15 year old to clean their room (or harder).
If you are a parent, think about it, how many times do you have to tell your child to do something before they actually do it? Two, three, ten times? What do you do when they still won’t do it? Scream and yell? Threaten them? Give up? If you are blessed with a child that does everything they are asked to when you ask them to, then you can stop reading right here. However, most of you will probably continue on and it’s normal, so don’t worry.
There are several things that you must consider when requesting any child to complete a task, and if not followed, can be detrimental to any further requests or demands in the future. There is actually a very simple formula that can be followed in order to have your child carry out a request; it’s the actual process that will not be as easy.
First, if you plan on asking you child to do something, make sure it is a reasonable request and that you intend to follow through on having them complete it. If you have no intentions of sticking with what you asked, then you might as well throw in the towel now. Understandably, there are eight billion other things going on in the lives of busy parents, but this is just one more thing that you will have to balance. So, if you are going to ask your 15 year old to make his bed or your three year old with autism to make eye contact when speaking to you, you must follow through (no matter how long it takes!).
Second, don’t give up! There are going to be moments (many moments) where you are going to be fighting a psychological battle with your child on completing the many things you ask them to do on a daily basis. For example, if you have a child that has trouble with requesting and using the phrase ‘I want’, do not just let them point at an item and that suffice as good enough to let them have it. If you ever want them to learn that they have to speak in order to get what they want, you have to make them say ‘I want…’ or else they will never do it! If you give them what they want without following through on what you asked them to do, you are reinforcing the wrong behavior and undesired outcome. If Sally wants blueberries and she points to them and whines, don’t give them to her. You can first, hold out for a verbal request from Sally, while showing her the blueberries, (‘I want blueberries’), if she doesn’t do that then you can ask ‘Sally what do you want?’ and wait for a verbal request, if she stilldoes not ask, then you can verbally prompt her, “Sally say, I want blueberries’. If she still does none of these things, she does NOT get the blueberries! Next time she may ask for them or she may not. It could take 10, 20, 50 times for her to understand that she must physically ask for something in order to get it, so hang in there.
Last, make sure you have a positive reinforcer to reward the desired behavior you are looking for. The minute Sally says ‘I want blueberries’ you pop a blueberry in her mouth and cheer like you are watching your favorite team score a touchdown to let her know that was the correct behavior you were looking for. If your teenager cleans his room, you give him verbal praise and let him go out with his friends. In both scenarios, you have a higher probability the next time around if they perform the task they will get the positive reinforcement immediately after.
So yes, parenting is sort of like a battle sometimes, but remember you set all the ground rules and are the model for all the behavior you expect from your child. If you don’t clean the house, they won’t clean their room. If you whine and complain to get what you want, guess what? They are going to do the same thing. So act as if someone is always watching, because they are!