Last updated on Jun 11th, 2021 at 01:27 pm

Who hasn’t wished their kids would just listen the first time? In case you’re wondering, the children who actually do aren’t mythical unicorns. They’re simply kids whose parents have mastered the art of giving instructions in a way that gets them to take note.

Here’s how.

Be the calm you want to see in your family

“Did you know that parents – especially the mother – are the emotional temperature gauge of the home?” says Celeste Rushby, an occupational therapist, parenting coach and mother of 3 (including twins). It means that you get to decide whether your family starts the day smiling or snappy – it’s all down to your attitude. It may require some stern self-talk, but you can make the decision to create a warm, playful environment for your family to thrive in and, when you do, you’ll be able to choose calm over chaos. “As soon as you start to lose it, your pre-frontal cortex (the part of your brain that is rational, makes wise decisions, has impulse control and can reason) begins to shut down, and you go into fight, flight or fright instead,” Celeste explains. That’s when those overwhelming emotions start pushing your buttons.

ALSO SEE: 7 ways to practise peaceful parenting

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Don’t repeat your instructions

Does this sound familiar: You give an instruction. You give it again. By the time you’re saying the same thing for the fifth time, you’re miles away from the composed, in control parent you aspire to be. You can’t be blamed but, says Celeste, the moment you get angry, your child stops focusing on what they’re doing wrong, and starts focusing instead on why you’re being nasty. And that stops them from learning about why you’re cross. Plus, it means you break their trust. “More than this, when you repeat instructions, you’re actually training kids to ignore you. This is because you’re going to say it again anyway,” Celeste points out. Her solution? Give the instruction – once. Pause. Give one firm warning (not a threat), then say, “You’re not listening”. Pause again. Now, with empathy (and no anger), follow through with a consequence: “Oh dear, you didn’t listen. Now I’m going to have to take away 5 minutes from your screen time today.”

Don’t moan it, model it

We all hate whining, but the problem is that telling kids to ‘ask nicely’ doesn’t stop the behaviour. That’s because asking nicely means prefacing the whine with a ‘please’, which isn’t exactly the change you’re looking for, says Celeste. What you actually want, she notes, is that the request is made with a good attitude. So, instead of asking for the magic word, model how the request should be made. “Say something like ‘No moaning! Say, ‘Please can I rather have the blue cup, mom?’ Your smile and gentle demeanour will be contagious,” Celeste says.

Catch them being good

We all love a pat on the back, and your kids are no different. According to Celeste, the more your child feels like you notice good behaviour, the less you’ll have to deal with bad behaviour. So, if your little one follows an instruction the first time, acknowledge this immediately. “The more challenging the child, the more vigilant you need to be about finding good behaviours to notice and reinforce,” Celeste advises.

ALSO SEE: What to do when your child displays undesirable behaviour

Fill their love tanks

Spending just 10 to 20 minutes one on one with your little one, doing something you both enjoy, is surprisingly impactful. It means less attention-seeking behaviour and sibling rivalry, and more confident, independent play.

All about attitude

Your kids can’t be expected to have a good attitude if you’re mired in negativity yourself. As Celeste says, “a good attitude is caught, not taught”. So, if you want them to tidy up without entering into a big argument, make sure they see you dancing along to your favourite tunes while you clean up the kitchen. “A good attitude is the core of long-term behaviour change and character growth, so insist on it.”

Be brave enough to apologise

Shouting and anger can break relationships and make your children feel they aren’t safe with you – but, then again, it’s not possible to remain calm at all times. Messing up is not only inevitable, it’s also forgivable – as long as you ask for forgiveness. As difficult as it might be, humble yourself by going down to your child’s eye level and apologising. Don’t follow this with a “but you”, Celeste says, because that turns the apology into a justification. Remember, your apology isn’t just about healing your relationship with your kids; it’s also about showing them how powerful saying sorry can be.

More about the expert:

Celeste Rushby is an occupational therapist and parenting coach at Munchkins. She is a mother of 3, including twins. Learn more about Celeste Rushby here.