How to always get your child to cooperate with you: a manual for instruction of the child

I have been a pediatrician for more years than I can count on an anatomically complete set of hands. My pediatric career started in 1998 in a city called Ibadan, in Nigeria.

My initiation into the world of children started a couple of years earlier at University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu as an intern. Then in 1998 at the beginning of residency at the prestigious University College Hospital Ibadan I confirmed my lifelong commitment to the health of the child.

I have stories to tell about the early days and how I learned a great life-long lesson from a very sick 4 year old boy. Today, however, we are going to talk about instructions to children. There is indeed a right way which I know so well when wearing my pediatrician’s hat (as a Dad it is sometimes a different story).


1. Give instructions to child that are developmentally appropriate

Unless we give developmentally appropriate instructions, the child may not cooperate. Usually we get hung up on simple things when we talk to them with adult language.

An adult will understand “Its about time we started heading home” as a call to head out. However for a child, that simply means it is “not time”. To them when it is time, you will say “it is time to go”

Always try to use language that they will understand based on their age.

baby's first year child

2. Give specific instructions

Tell your child specifically what you want them to do and make sure your child is indeed listening. Yes, kids think they can do many things at the same time and we all know multitasking is generally delusional at best.We as human beings are most efficient when we focus on one task at a time.

Sometimes children focus more on the emotion surrounding what we are doing rather than the content of your communication. Thus it is ineffectual to shout an instruction because little Johnny (or Jane) will focus more on your emotion and may not even hear you.

Take a deep breath and repeat your instruction as if talking to a caveman who has just learned how to speak your language.

3. Supervise the task 

Giving a minor a task or directions and not supervising or looking for the outcome is not likely to yield great result. Children need immediate feedback. Endeavor to give praise immediately a task is done well and feedback if not done properly.

Of course we have to be mindful of excessive criticism as these “dull the senses”, literally. Children tend to lose self esteem and confidence if they are often harshly and destructively criticized.

Give the instruction and supervise/direct and guide them to success . Then praise them for a job well done.

child having fun riding a bike

4. Be warm and friendly. 

When you give your child instructions, always strive to do it in your best demeanor. Do not be grouchy or grumpy (unless you are very very old, 1 st world war old) neither should you have an unpleasant look on your face.

Ensure that you are close to your child and maintain eye contact. Ask with a smile after all you need it more than the oblivious little one since you bear the consequences of the out come. So really the child will be doing you a favor. Be nice and warm. Body contact like a light touch can work wonders too.

5. Do not repeat. 

Once you make sure you have delivered the instructions according to the aforementioned guidance, do not repeat. Just say it once and hang around for requests for clarification. Usually the child is good and waits for you to encourage and reassure her as she delivers the task with military (rookie) precision.

Good luck with your child rearing. It is fun and you know you will be done soon. Do your best and let nature handle the rest.

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