Children and adults share the universal need to feel respected. As adults, we feel demeaned when someone commands us in a belittling way and the same is true for our children. When they are constantly addressed in a commanding tone, kids come to feel like they can’t do anything right. They come to feel like failures.

If you are taking the time to read this column, I can be quite certain that you would never intentionally put your child down. “Describe What You See” is an extremely simple technique that does not undermine the respect you aim to give your child.

Describe What You See

Instead of shouting at your child, “I said, Stop jumping on the couch!” you can very calmly say, “You are jumping on the couch.” In so doing, you’re simply describing what you see in a very respectful way of speaking. Your child will respond to it – because the message you’re send him/her is, “I don’t have to tell you what to do. You already know what to do. Perhaps you didn’t realize that you were jumping on the couch, but once I bring it to your attention, I’m sure that you will stop”

After you “describe what you see,” walk away! This sends the message that you expect your child to listen. If you stand next to him to watch what he will do next, he’ll feel like you are just waiting for him to defy you.

You Can Use This Technique to Stop Almost Any Misbehavior

Instead of saying, “You didn’t throw your plate in the garbage!” which highlights your child’s mistake and invites a lack of cooperation, try: “Your plate is on the table.” You can even use a few simple words to get your point across. If your child is playing roughly with a sibling and hurting his brother’s knee, try saying: “His knee,” instead of “Stop that! You’re hurting his knee!” The child then concludes, “Oh, my mother thought I didn’t realize that I was hurting my brother. Let me live up to that positive expectation and get off of him.”

Important: When using this strategy, you mustemploy a calm voice! As long as your child does not feel attacked he’ll feel good about listening to you.

Why This Strategy Works

Think of it from an adult perspective. Would you be more willing to cooperate with a boss who gives you commands very often, or a boss who just describes the situation? I know I would certainly be more motivated to work hard for a boss who respects my efforts and trusts that I am trying my best.

Homework: This month, try to use the “Describe What You See” technique at least once a day. You can expect to see increased compliance as well as an improved relationship with your child.

Tammy Sassoon is a behavioral therapist and parenting coach. She gives live workshops as well as “train by phone” telecourses to teachers, principals, therapists, and parents, in order to help them gain compliance from even the most oppositional children.
She can be contacted through her website,