What is the significance of the title: Parenting as a Verb? A common term for the parenting role that a mother & father share is the label: Parent. (This, you might notice, is using the word as a noun.) Without question the most important responsibility in life is that of parenting young children. In other words, it is not really the role of parent that is the determiner of our parenting duties. Rather, it is the actions of parenting that make our responsibility so vital in society. Assuming we acknowledge parenting as something we do (an action), not as something we are, it goes without saying that we must actively embrace our role of parenting young children as an action (verb) not as a noun. Separate from my professional training as a child development specialist, my wife and I have six children. So, even at a very personal level, I have a humble respect for the ominous responsibilities that exude from striving to raise emotionally healthy, empathic, and socially competent children. It is with this in mind that I have chosen to title this series of articles: Parenting as a verb.
A frequent concern expressed by parents is, “How do I get my child to pay attention to me when I am talking to him?” When you want to say something to your child, it is important to get your child’s attention before you start talking. A child may be so tuned-in to his own activity (i.e. watching TV, playing video games or engaging in other play) that he does not tune-in to your voice. When you are giving instructions to a young child it is crucial to get eye contact with the child before you begin your message. For example, if you need to tell your child something important, like giving instructions, first gently touch your child on the shoulder to help channel the child’s attention toward you and away from distractions.
\Give your child some warning that you are about to give some instructions. You might say ,” When the words start coming on the screen at the end of this show, I will come in here and tell you what I want you to do and I want you to be ready to do it.” In another situation you might say: ”As soon as we finish supper, I am going to tell you two things to do and I want you to be ready to do them.”
It is very important to reinforce your child for following instructions. One way to do this is to find naturally - occurring “reinforcers” from your child’s daily routine and use these to set- up situations for practicing the following of instructions. For example, the child may ask: ”May I go play with Johnny?” You might respond: “Sure you can go, just as soon as you empty the trash can in your room into the trash can in the kitchen?” Or you can respond to your child’s request for a treat by saying, “Sure you can have…! While I’m getting it, please take your shoes to your room. When you come back it will be all ready for you.” Using this approach, you are being positive and also asking your child to be compliant. Another way to encourage compliance is, at a neutral time, point it out the specific behavior you want to reinforce and how happy you are with the child’s responsiveness to your expectation of his behavior and provide specific reinforcement. For example: If your child has followed instructions appropriately, after the task is completed you might say, “When I see that you placed your shoes in the closet in your room, right where they belong, I feel so happy I want to smile and give you a high-five.” Another example would be, “By putting your activity where it belongs after you are through using it now I have more time to sit down and play a game with you.” If a child is only partially compliant, or complaining while complying, do not reinforce the negativity by complaining at the child. If you do you will be encouraging complaining, only partial compliance, and incomplete work.
It can be helpful to have a child repeat the instructions you have given to ensure that he understood. First: Give the instruction. Second: Ask, in a calm, quiet and friendly voice: “What is it that you remember I want you to do?” When the child responds with the correct understanding you can say, “Now, I would like you to repeat it one time to yourself.” By doing this you are teaching the child to repeat instructions mentally; thereby increasing the probability that your instructions will be followed as you gave them.
Another useful tool is having the child go through an imagination exercise in following instructions. Athletes have known for many years that forming a vivid, visual image increases the probability of being able to carry out a particular act successfully. Turn it into a game. Give your child an instruction, then say, “Close your eyes and picture yourself doing the task.
Get in the habit of speaking slowly and gently to your child. Rather than getting louder and more insistent if your expectation is not immediately responded to, get quieter but continue to be insistent. This might necessitate you physically guiding the child through the task for a few interventions. Eventually, the child will realize that you mean what you say and follow-through on his own. Involve the child in activities that are fun but have rules and structure, such as – helping you fold cloths, setting or clearing the table at meal time or putting groceries away in cupboards. Your child will gradually learn that there are rules/procedures to follow in virtually every endeavor in life.
Review the rules for special situations, in advance. For example, before going to a shopping mall, you might say: “I am going to go over all the rules. Rule number one: Stay where I can see you. Rule number two: No crawling under the clothes racks. Rule number three: No running into people.” If the child breaks a rule, stop him immediately and review the rule again, (e.g., “Remember, the rule is…”).
The key to developmentally appropriate child guidance strategies working is in being persistently consistent. If you are inconsistent with these techniques...they will not work! However, if you are patient with yourself and your young child and not give up on applying these strategies correctly, they will help improve your child’s listening skills.
Dr. Mosier is a professor of early childhood education at Wright State University, a diplomate in child psychology of the American Board of Psychological Specialties, a licensed independent marriage and family therapist, and a licensed and ordained minister. If you have a question that you would like addressed on the DAYC website, write to Dr. Mosier c/o DAYC at P.O. Box 31250 Dayton, OH 45437.