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Why is it so hard for so many parents and teachers to get kids to do as they are told? Because too many adults have followed some very bad advice. Family psychologist John Rosemond offers some useful tips on how to get the little barbarians to listen.

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When was the last time you heard a child referred to as obedient? It’s probably been a while. That’s too bad because the best research tells us that obedient children are happy children. And, from my experience as a family psychologist, the parents of obedient children are happy parents.

Since all parents want their children to be happy, the question becomes: How does one get a child to obey? Is there some trick to it?

Well, there are certainly are a lot of parents who think so. They believe that proper discipline is a matter of using the right methods, techniques, and strategies: what I call consequence delivery systems. Parents have been using these behavior-modification-based methods since they became popular in the 1960s – seemingly to no avail. Would anyone argue that today’s kids are more obedient than kids were several generations ago? I don’t think so. The reason these methods and techniques don’t work is that proper discipline is not a matter of proper methods. It’s a matter of a proper attitude on the part of the parent.

Let me illustrate the point. Let’s say that for a week I observe the classroom of a grade school teacher who has the reputation of being the best disciplinarian in her district. She consistently has fewer behavior problems than any of her colleagues. What is she doing? She’s making her expectations perfectly clear. Which means, first, she communicates in simple, declarative sentences. She doesn’t use fifty words when she could use ten. The more words you use to communicate your expectations, the less confident you sound.

Second, she prefaces her instructions to her students with authoritative phrases like “I want you to…” and “It’s time for you to…” She says, “It’s time for you to take out your math books and turn to page 25” as opposed to “Let’s take out our math books and turn to page 25. Okay?”

Third, this teacher does not explain the motives behind her instructions to her students. Why? Because she knows that explanations invite arguments.

Whenever parents tell me they’re dealing with an argumentative child I know that these well-intentioned people are explaining themselves. They tell their child why they want him to pick up his toys, for example. And he argues, because you can always pick apart an explanation. If you don’t explain yourself when you give an instruction to a child, then the child, being a child, is almost surely going to ask for one. He’s going to ask Why? or Why not? At which point… get ready for a big surprise… your answer should be “Because I said so.

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