When I decided to take a break from teaching and stay home with my young children, I knew pretty much how things would go. I enrolled my oldest in preschool for socialization, but I was confident that our days would be filled with better-than-preschool type activities. I figured we would read some poetry over breakfast, then knock out some Pinterest-worthy art projects and fit in a few science experiments before making a healthy lunch together. After a restful nap, we would take an educational field trip- probably spelunking or geocaching.
Except, as it turns out, my life as a teacher-turned-Mom is pretty normal. Sure, we take trips to the zoo or the park, but lots of days we just go to Target or play with play dough. However, there are a few tips and tricks from my teaching years that have been especially helpful at home.
My first teacher tip is the tactic I use most often with my children. It is kind of like magic, because it makes children more likely to do what we want them to do! I know, it's a game changer. Ready...?
Use Alpha Commands, not Beta Commands
So helpful, right? Let me explain. There is a lot of research about how to get children to comply with commands. Don't let the word commands scare you off. I am not advocating a militaristic parenting style- it's just the word used in behavior research. If you are asking a child to do something, it's considered a command. And if you are giving a command, or you want children to do something, it matters a lot how you ask.
Here are some examples of beta commands:
"Be more careful with that fork or you are going to hurt yourself and be late for school."
"Why don't we clean up some of this mess? It would be so nice if this room was cleaner! And don't forget to bring your laundry downstairs or you won't have any clean clothes for school tomorrow."
Beta commands are vague and use subjective terms like "be nice" or "pay attention". They are wordy- they include many steps or unimportant details. Beta commands sometimes pretend to be questions, even when they aren't- "Don't you want to finish your homework?" No, most kids don't WANT to finish their homework. And while we use these all the time- sometimes out of habit, or to be nice, they are not the most effective way to get your children to comply.
Now, for some alpha commands:
"Put the blocks in the red bin."
"Put the fork on the table."
"Open your binder to the homework tab."
Alpha commands are "clear, concise and specific". They describe the appropriate behavior. They include more "starts" than "stops" (i.e. "start walking to class" vs "stop standing around"). They break long requests into specific steps. Most importantly, they are more effective at getting kids to do things, and every parent knows that is a huge part of our job.
Here are some more examples of how to use alpha commands effectively.
If you want your child to clean her room, then say:
"1. put your dirty clothes in the hamper 2. put your books on the bookshelf 3. Put your toys in the toy bin." Some children will need the steps one at a time, while older children may be able to handle several.
If you want your lollygagging children to get their stuff and get out the door, then try:
"Time to go. Shoes, water bottle, out the door."
If you want your child to be polite at a playdate, then say:
"Tell Mr. Muffin thank you. Say please if you ask for something." Obviously there is more to "being polite", but often you will have more success by focusing on a few specific things at a time.
Two final tips for kid-compliance success.
- TONE matters. Use a calm, neutral voice when making requests. I have to remind myself of this all the time when I want to scream "PUT THE BLOCKS IN THE RED BIN!!!!" But once you go there, you lose the benefits of the alpha commands.
- Give some TIME for children to process the command and comply. 5-10 seconds is usually enough, depending on the child. Once they do, offer specific praise- "Yay! You put the blocks in the bin. Now we have room to do puzzles."
Do you think alpha commands could change things for you? Let me know in the comments or ask the teacher a question.
On second thought, let me leave you with some alpha commands:
Comment below. Ask a question.
- Walker, H.M., Ramsey, E. and Gresham, F.M. (2003). Antisocial Behavior in Schools: Evidence-Based Practices.
- Phycho-Educational Teacher for Students with Behavior Issues: Improving Children's Compliance- Part 2: Mastering the Alpha Command.
- Vanderbilt Special Education Tip Sheet: Compliance Strategies