Now when my son, Shearn, was 4 years old, I learnt a valuable lesson in parenting. Now Shearn had broken a rule, and I sent him to stand outside in the garage as punishment. I was physically with him the entire time. So Shearn was crying and pleading and asking me to let him go back into the house. And I told him, I said: “Shearn, you’re not going back into the house until you learn to stop crying so that we can talk about your mistake and move on.”
Now Shearn turned to me and said something I would not forget for a very long time.
He said to me: “Baba, I’m trying very hard to stop crying, but I don’t know how.”
As parents, we must always be ready all the time because unfortunately, things WILL go wrong. The problem is we waste a lot of time and energy telling our children what NOT to do instead of telling them what we want them to do. Now, many parents love to say:
“Why are you like this?”
“Can you not be so lazy?”
Even instructions like “Quit bullying your brother!” force our children to guess what we want them to fix. Instead, we should tell them what steps are necessary to do now to go and correct their mistakes. Now this is very important because it shows them that we’re there together with them and that we are willing to lead them.
Hi, my name is Teacher Kean from Teaching Worthy and I’m a licensed headmaster with the Ministry of Education and a HRDF Trainer. My job is to help parents become better parents. Today, I am going to show you how great parents and great teachers give clear and affirmative instructions to their children so that their children can learn from their mistakes and move on.
Before that, let’s consider why some parents often use negative phrases in their instructions. Sometimes, it’s simply because we parents do not know the answer. It is far more easier and convenient to tell our children to “Stop crying” and leave them to figure it out by themselves instead of teaching them how to regulate their emotions step-by-step. For this particular example, the truth is, many of us adults still don’t know how to regulate our own emotions. Obviously we wouldn’t have the information and the knowledge needed to teach our children how.
Another reason why parents often word their instructions in the negative is because as human beings, we have our own emotional needs and we often let it bleed into our language with our children. Now consider this instruction: “Can you please stop that? Baba has had a very bad day at the office. Please give me a break?”
Now, there is nothing clear at all in that instruction about what we expect our child to do. Sure, our child may quiet down for a moment but will soon be causing havoc again because the instruction we gave him was ambiguous.
So how do we craft a good and affirmative instruction? So let’s imagine a scenario where our 16 year old son, Ivan has broken a glass. We are now issuing a punishment.
So first and foremost, a good instruction is always specific. We can tell Ivan: “Ivan, you need to sweep the floor now before you and your younger siblings get hurt.”
Often however, a specific instruction is not enough. We can aim to make the instruction more concrete by detailing to Ivan how we want him to achieve it. Consider this example: “Ivan, you have to sweep the floor now so that no one else gets hurt. First, I want you to go to the kitchen and put on a pair of gloves. Then, I want you to grab the broom and the duster.”
In this particular scenario, the correction task can be a bit challenging, so, we can help Ivan out by breaking it down step by step. This will train our children to be calm in the face of adversity and also learn to be more organised. So here’s what we could say:
“Ivan, you have to sweep up the floor now before someone else gets hurt.
First, I want you to go to the kitchen and put on a pair of gloves. Thank you.
Next, grab the broom and duster.
Good, now, I need you to carefully pick out the largest pieces of glass from the floor first. Thank you.”
And so forth.
Finally, and this is very important, the corrective task or punishment we assign to our children must be observable. If our children know that we are watching, they are far more likely to comply. This is why vague instructions like “Why aren’t you studying” are extremely ineffective. This is because we can’t actually hold our children accountable and to test to see whether or not they’ve complied. Now in this scenario, a far better instruction would be: “Read Subsection 3 of Chapter 2. Then, do the topical questions at page 34. This is going to help you in your exams. I will mark and discuss the answers with you later.”
So there we have it. Now, this is the perfect time for us to briefly touch upon POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT again. After your child has carried out their corrective tasks, THANK THEM. We can even praise them if they put in extraordinary effort when correcting themselves.
Now, to be fair, this is a very complex topic and there is far more for me to share. If you feel like your situation is unique or if you require specific advice, please do not hesitate to visit us at www.teachingworthy.com. Thank you, and please share these lessons which are worth sharing.