Non-compliance is a very upsetting child behavior. One skill that you can use to directly address non-compliance is to have the child repeat the expectation. This has an almost magical effect on your child’s behavior. I was in a school hallway, and there were 7 second graders milling around. The teacher walked through and said, “Kids, go on outside. You are supposed to be at recess.” She walked into her classroom, and I watched the kids. They were unaffected by being told (nicely) what to do. So I decided to try the Immediate Expectation tool. I said, “Kids, where does your teacher expect you to be right now?” They looked at me and one said, “Outside at recess.” I said, “That is exactly right. Thank you!” I paused, and stood there, and the kids turned and walked outside. So I said, “Thank you. That’s great.” (this provided a positive response to their appropriate behavior).

Instead of telling a children what to do, ask them. If the child says it, it greatly increases the probability he will do it. This is true for all age kids. Often a child will protest instead of answering the question, “But I hate homework.” Stay calm. Listen to the feeling and respond with empathy. “I know you don’t like homework. That is pretty normal, but what do I expect you to do right now?” The child will protest 2 or 3 times, but 97% of the time the child will tell you what he is expected to do. Once the child tells you what is expected, it is very important that you give a strong positive response like, “Thank you, that is correct.” Next, give the child a few seconds (or minutes if the child is angry). Give the child time to start meeting the expectation. Once the child starts meeting the expectation, be sure and provide a positive response to the behavior.

A mom attended a parenting seminar I gave at the local community college, and returned home to find her husband and 5 year old daughter yelling at each other about the daughter going to bed. This had been going on for 20 minutes, and the husband threw up his hands and said, “She is all yours!”

This very predictable conversation then played out. Predictable, that is, as long as the mom remains calm, and uses expectations rather than orders…

Mom, “Dear, what are you supposed to be doing right now?”
Daughter, “Getting ready for bed.”
Mom, “That’s right, honey. And what 4 things do you do to get ready for bed?
Daughter, “Put on my jamies, brush my teeth, brush my hair and give hugs and kisses.”
Mom, “Very good answer.”
Daughter, “But I don’t want to wear my jamies, I want to wear my undies!”
Mom, “That is fine, so after you take your close off, what will you do next?”
Daughter, “Brush my teeth.”
Mom, “OK dear, are you ready to show me that now.”
Daughter, “Ok Mommy.” (and the daughter went off and got ready for bed).

It is normal for the child to protest 2 or 3 times before stating the expectation. Respond to protests by being understanding, and state the child’s feeling, then ask what is expected, like this.

Mom, “Dear, what are you supposed to be doing right now?”
Daughter, “I don’t want to go to bed, I’m not sleepy.”
Mom, “I can see you are still wide awake, but what do I expect you to do right now?”
Daughter, “I want to stay up and play. I didn’t get to play with my dolls today!”
Mom, “I know you love to play with your dolls, but even so, what do I expect you to do right now?”
Daughter, “I hate going to bed. It is no fun.”
Mom, “Honey, I know there are lots of fun things you would rather do, but what do I expect you to do right now?”
Daughter, “Get ready for bed.”
Mom, “That’s right, honey. Thank you. And what 4 things do you…” (see above).
If the child protests a 4th time (unless you can tell she is about to cooperate), just state the expectation, and turn away, like this.
Mom, “I’m sorry this is difficult for you, but I am glad you understand that I expect you to be get ready for bed.”
Daughter, “But I’m not going to bed” (maybe yelled as Mom is walking away).

– or –

Mom, “Daddy (or to another child), What do I expect Sarah to do right now.”
Daddy, “Get ready for bed.”
Mom, “That is exactly right. Thank you very much.” (then mom and dad walk away).
Once the desired behavior starts, mom or dad need to be positive and say something nice and brief like, “Thanks”.

But my child won’t answer me! If this is your problem, then you need to build the behavior of answering questions. The problem is that in the past, when your child has answered questions, it has produced an undesirable consequence for the child. Probably, you have responded with coercion to your child’s answer. You have figuratively “beaten” the child with her own words. So, you need to teach your child that answering questions produces desirable consequences or rewards. To do this, decide on a small positive reward or several rewards. For a 5 year old, these may be a Skittle, a “Great!”, and high five. Then you play the answer game. Every time your child answers a question, she gets a reward. Start with easy questions and the tangible reward (Skittle). Questions could include, “What’s your name?” and “How old are you?” You should increase the difficulty of the question, and the connection to behavior to such questions as “What is one thing you do to get ready for bed?” You will probably need to play this game several times for several days. Show your child how happy you are when your question is answered. After a while, your child will answer your question, “What do I expect you to do right now?” Start asking this question when the child wants to do the expectation. For example, you give the child a cookie, and ask, “What do I expect you to do right now?” Well, that is an easy question… “Eat the cookie!” Once your child will answer questions when upset, or being non-compliant, you can use one of the most powerful behavior tools available. Remember to acknowledge appropriate behavior when it happens. The expectation may get the behavior started, but it is our positive response to the behavior that will keep it going, and make positive behavior happen more often.

Expectations used to address non-compliance have a remarkable effect on the choice of behavior. Give it a try.


Note: Parenting coach and child behavior expert Tom Dozier can help you and your family if you live in any city in the Bay Area.  The first visit should be at his office in Livermore, but after that, meetings can be held by secure internet telecommunication (similar to Skype).  It is also possible to have the initial meeting with Tom via internet, so it is not mandatory that you travel to Livermore for the first meetings.  Cities near the Bay Area include Alameda, Antioch, Belmont, Benicia, Berkeley, Brentwood, Burlingame, Campbell, Concord, Cupertino, Lafayette, Lathrop, Livermore, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Manteca, Martinez, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Napa, Newark, Novato, Oakland, Oakley, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Petaluma, Pittsburg, Daly City, Danville, Dublin, East Palo Alto, Fairfield, Foster City, Fremont, Gilroy, Hayward, Hercules, San Jose, San Leandro, San Mateo, San Pablo, San Rafael, San Ramon, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa, Saratoga, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Redwood City, Richmond, Rohnert Park, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Francisco, South San Francisco, Stockton, Suisun City, Sunnyvale, Tracy, Union City, Vacaville, Vallejo, Walnut Creek, and Windsor.