Here’s a typical situation I bet you can relate to:
Your child has agreed to do (or not do) something like put their clothes in the hamper, or feed the cat, or pick up their toys when they’re finished playing.
You took the time to have a friendly discussion with your child about the issue (let’s say you did this — next time you can!) and you came up with a solution or agreement that you both could live with.
And yet, when the time came, your child didn’t follow through! Sound familiar?
(Read more about one easy way to get kids to take responsibility for their messes here.)
First, understand children well enough to know that they are likely to forget or challenge the plan/agreement. This is normal and to be expected!
When this happens, your job is to help your child follow through by kindly and firmly holding them accountable.
For example: Parent and child made an agreement that the child would feed the cat every morning. But the child still struggles with follow-through. In response to mess-ups or objections, remember that less is more, and try the following 5 Ways to Get Follow-Through (without nagging):
5 Ways to Get Follow-Through (without nagging):
Keep it short and simple (10 words or less): “Cat.”
Ask a question (rather than make a demand): “What was / Do you remember our agreement?”
Use nonverbal communication: E.g., point to the empty cat bowl. Or look at the cat bowl and then your child with sad eyes and say, “meow!”
Write a note: “Good Morning! I’m hungry! Love, the cat.”
Describe what you see without judgment: “I see an empty cat bowl.”
When your child does follow through, encourage them by noticing and appreciating: “Thank you for following through with feeding the cat.” Or “I noticed you fed the cat without being asked this morning.”
These five ways to encourage follow-through without nagging are all consistent with Faber and Mazlish’s advice (in How to Talk So Kids Listen and Listen So Kids Talk) that less is more.
- go on and on about how frustrated they are that the child didn’t follow through
- lecture the child about how the cat will die if it doesn’t get fed
- provide all the rationale as to why their point of view makes sense and how is it that the child has to be reminded again and again…blah blah blah,
What usually happens?
Children tune us out. Or they get defensive and defiant. Or they shut down. I bet you’ve seen these things happen with your own children.
These 5 tips will not guarantee follow-through, of course. They only increase the odds.
You can increase the odds of follow-through even more when you take the time to actually have a friendly discussion with your child about the issue during a calm time (NOT in the heat of the moment.)
In Teaching Parenting the Positive Discipline Way, Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott recommend the following Four Steps for Effective Follow-Through:
Four Steps for Effective Follow-Through:
- Have a friendly discussion where everyone gets to voice his or her feelings and thoughts around the issue.
- Brainstorm for possible solutions and choose one that both you and your child agree to.
- Agree on a specific time deadline (to the minute).
- Understand children well enough to know that the deadline probably won’t be met and simply follow through with your part of the agreement by holding them accountable.
They also remind parents to remember the Four Traps that Defeat Effective Follow-Through.
Four Traps that Defeat Effective Follow-Through
- Wanting children to have the same priorities as adults.
- Getting into judgments and criticism instead of sticking to the issue.
- Not getting agreements in advance that include a specific time deadline.
- Not maintaining dignity and respect for the child and yourself.
How to make effective agreements, solve problems jointly, and increase the odds of follow-through are only some of the many topics we’ll cover in my upcoming online parenting series, Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids: from conflict and chaos to cooperation and calm. It starts on June 3 in a Virtual Classroom.
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