Stop Giving Commands

If there was one bit of advice I could impart onto other adults about raising children, especially ones who interact with my children and advice of which I fully recognize is given selfishly on my part and for my own “zen”: It is to stop giving commands.

I thought of this recently while watching Mary Poppins. When their house is out of control; the children went missing; the cook and maid are fighting; and the nanny is about to quit, the father pronounces they need a nanny who can “give commands!” He sings:

A British nanny must be a gen’ral!
The future empire lies within her hands
And so the person that we need to mold the breed
Is a nanny who can give commands!

A British bank is run with precision
A British home requires nothing less!
Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools
Without them – disorder!
Catastrophe! Anarchy! –
In short, we have a ghastly mess!

After this ordeal, the children come down to request what they want in a nanny. They want one who is “cheery … kind … sweet … takes [them] on outings … won’t scold or dominate [them].” Mary Poppins answers the children’s advertisement, and ….. *Warning: Spoilers* ….. Mary Poppins brings joy and “order” to the house through engagement and kindness shown towards the children.

Commands just don’t work. How many times do I hear adults tell children “Don’t do that!” “Stop!” These commands are never a product of much reading and meditation on how to properly handle children, but reactions born out of irritation.

Try some different tactics the next time you find you want to give a command. Instead of yelling at a child who accidentally landed on another child after doing a flip, give them information. Tell them, “When you did that flip, your feet landed on your sibling and hurt them.” (This works for children aged 3 and over.) Watch in amazement as they process this information and then genuinely try to control their behavior next time. Or the next time they tell you they want to “Boom you away!”, try a curiosity question. “You want to boom me away?” And they may answer, “Yes! I don’t want you to step on my toys!” Now you can deal with the problem. Or if something is really bad, and they are hitting others with a toy, simply act, don’t yell. Take the toy away and say, “I can’t let you have this if people are getting hurt with it. We can try using the toy again later.” Watch as they, without meltdowns, completely understand your point, then ask for the toy maybe 2 minutes later, and play with it responsibly. And I 100% mean all of this: Yes, there may be some frustration on the child’s part, but all in all, this type of language speaks to them and, with few meltdowns whatsoever, these methods work. They influence child behavior without any commands, any punishment, or any harm to your relationship with your child whatsoever.

Yes there are times to state your expectations strongly and simply. It’s hard to cover it in one blog post. For now I will just give some Recommended reading: Dr. Ginott’s book Between Parent and Child” and any of his students work, including Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and How to Talk so Kids Will Listen.

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