Parenting With Psychology

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Three Words To Make Your Child Listen To You

ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years communication discipline Apr 29, 2024


As parents, we've all been there—repeating requests to our children, wondering if our words are just bouncing off the walls.  This can be especially challenging with younger children or those who have attention difficulties.  But what if I told you there’s a psychology-based strategy that could transform these moments from frustrating to fulfilling?  Welcome to the world of "Acknowledge and Respond," a simple yet revolutionary approach to communication with your children.


Introducing the Acknowledge and Respond Strategy

My favorite way to confirm understanding with young children is to ask them to acknowledge and respond to your request.  Instead of simply making a request and walking away, parents, using this strategy, ask their child to acknowledge the request and verbally respond that they are planning to follow through on it.  I might say, “Laura, please put your Legos back in the bin when you’re all done playing with them.”  If Laura doesn’t respond or says something vague like, “OK,” I would follow up with, “Laura,” and wait for her to make eye contact or say, “Please look me in the eyes,” to continue the conversation with more focus.  Then I would say, “I’d like you to put your Legos back in the bin when you’re done playing.  Please acknowledge and respond.”


At that point, Laura might say, “OK,” or “Yeah, I will,” and I would say, “Thank you for acknowledging my request.  Please respond by telling me what you will do in response to my request.”  If she is confused or new to using this technique and needs further clarification, I would provide more guidance by saying, “Please repeat back to me, ‘I will put the Legos back in the bin when I am done playing.’”  If she asks why that step is necessary, I would say, “To be sure you heard me and understand what I’m asking.”  Throughout this conversation, I would be speaking to Laura in a clear, calm, and caring manner to help maintain a teaching tone rather than a nagging tone to the conversation.  


The Acknowledge and Respond technique is a simple yet powerful tool that can help parents navigate the often tricky waters of getting their child to complete various requests that reach beyond cleaning up their toys.  You can use this strategy nearly any time you make a request of your child to markedly increase their likelihood of following through on that request.  Rather than asking your child if they understand and having them simply respond, “Yes,” ask them to elaborate by acknowledging what you have said and providing a verbal response.  For example, if you’re walking on the sidewalk along a busy street with your child and they would like to walk independently without holding your hand, you might say, “That’s alright with me as long as you stay within arm’s reach.  Please acknowledge and respond.  Then, they would say, “Yes, I know that I need to stay within arm’s reach, or we have to hold hands.”  


This technique serves three critical purposes:

  1. Ensures Your Child Heard and Understood You: It's a verbal handshake, an assurance that your message was received.  Sometimes, kids respond, “Yeah,” but are really too engrossed in a project to register what you’ve said.
  2. Primes Your Child for Action: By verbalizing their commitment, your child is more likely to follow through.  You are setting them up for success by arming them for completing that behavior.
  3. Reduces Frustration: It clears the air of the "I didn't hear you" excuse, making interactions smoother.


At its core, Acknowledge and Respond is about creating a two-way street for communication between you and your child.  Instead of the traditional one-sided request like, "Please put your jacket away," and saying, “I asked you to do that earlier.  Didn’t you hear me?” this strategy involves asking your child to acknowledge they heard you and to verbally commit to following through at the time of the request.  For example, after your request, you might say, “Please tell me what you're going to do?" and wait for them to respond, "I'm going to put my jacket away."


Why It Works: The Psychology Behind the Strategy

Children, especially those with attentional challenges, thrive on clear, engaging communication.  When they're asked to repeat back or acknowledge a request, it does more than ensure they've heard; it actively involves them in the process, making them more invested in the outcome.  This method also taps into the power of verbal commitment, which psychology tells us can significantly increase the likelihood of an action being completed.  By having your child verbally commit to the request, you are priming them for successfully completing the task.


How to Implement Acknowledge and Respond in Daily Life

To put this strategy into practice, parents can use it in a variety of daily interactions with their children.  Here are a few ways you can incorporate this strategy into your daily interactions:

- Morning Routines: Ask your child to verbally outline their steps for getting ready after you've discussed it.  "What are we doing after breakfast?"

- Chore Time: Instead of saying, "Time to clean up," ask, "What's your plan for cleaning up your toys?"

- Homework Sessions: After setting up a homework task, ask, "Can you explain what your task is?"


In each scenario, you're not only ensuring your child knows what's expected but also giving them the autonomy to express it in their words, boosting their confidence and sense of responsibility.


Here’s a very important point: Be sure to couple this strategy with positive reinforcement.  First, offer an enthusiastic, “That’s right!  Good listening” after they acknowledge and respond to your request.  Second, when the requested task is complete, praise them again for following through on your request.  The combined strength of these two strategies is substantial.


Beyond the Basics: For Children with Major Attentional Issues

For children facing more significant challenges with attention, this strategy might need a slight adjustment.  First, be conscientious of the length and complexity of your request.  Use very clear and short statements for the instruction.  Second, break larger tasks down into smaller parts and have your child check in with you after each step.  Third, it can be beneficial to stay and observe until the task is completed, providing gentle reminders if necessary.  This ensures the task doesn't get forgotten in the transition from acknowledgment to action.


The Bigger Picture: Stress Reduction and Improved Family Dynamics

By implementing the Acknowledge and Respond strategy, parents can decrease stress and frustration in their interactions with their children.  This approach promotes clear communication, accountability, and responsibility, leading to a more harmonious family dynamic.  It also helps children develop important skills such as listening, following directions, and completing tasks, setting them up for success in the future.


Once they get the hang of this new strategy, your conversations with your child that involve a request will begin to flow much more smoothly, and your kids will learn to take more responsibility for their actions.  If my kids ever don’t respond to a request I make or just say, “Yes,” I simply prompt them with, “Please Acknowledge and Respond,” and they know exactly what to do - they know I need to hear them rephrase what I have asked them to do.


By integrating Acknowledge and Respond into your parenting toolkit, you're likely to see a decrease in daily stress levels for both you and your child.  This strategy fosters a cooperative environment, reducing the number of repeated requests and misunderstandings.  Over time, this can significantly improve family dynamics, making for a more harmonious home life.


If you’re looking for more psychology-based parenting strategies to improve communication and behavior in your family, be sure to download my free resource, 5 Must-Have Tips for Better Behavior Today.  This guide is packed with actionable tips to support you on your parenting journey, helping you to bring out the best behavior in your child.


Take-Home Message

Embracing the Acknowledge and Respond strategy is more than just a way to get your child to put their jacket away; it's about building a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.  It's a testament to the power of communication in strengthening the parent-child bond and fostering an environment where children feel heard and valued.  Remember, every small step in communication can lead to big changes in behavior and family dynamics.  The Acknowledge and Respond strategy is just the beginning.  Give it a try this week and see the positive impact it has on your family.


Acknowledge and Respond falls under the Communication category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see Are You An Intentional Parent? to learn more about The 5 C’s).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Thanks for joining me to fill your parenting toolbox with psychology-based tools to feel more confident and capable in your parenting.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!


P.S. Don't forget to download my free resource, 5 Must-Have Tips for Better Behavior Today, for more actionable strategies to improve your child’s behavior and enjoy a huge improvement in your family dynamics!


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