Effective, consistent commands will improve behavior in young children

Parents can make adjustments to the commands they give their children to get more desireable results.

Mother soothing a child

Sometimes, parents can send their children mixed messages by the ineffective commands they give them and lack of consistency with routines and household rules. Parents will often shout out commands, such as:

  • Be quiet!
  • Stop bugging your sister/brother.
  • Quit shouting!
  • Stop running.

All of these commands are telling children what not to do. Perhaps parents should tell them what they want them to do instead. "Be quiet," could be restated as, "Please use an inside voice," and, "Stop bugging your sister," could be restated as, "Go play in the other room."

Often times when parents give ineffective commands children will cease the undesirable behavior for a short period of time and then go back to doing the same thing. Younger children may not understand that their parents want them to stop a behavior for good, unless they are told to. They may think their parents want them to be quiet at that given moment. Keep in mind how literal young children are.

On average, a parent gives one command or correction every minute. This often becomes a problem because parents will give commands and not follow through and be consistent. This can be very confusing for young children because there may be times when the parent really means what they are commanding and other times they may not care if the child complies. Hearing a lot of ineffective commands can be overwhelming for children, so they stop trying to comply.

Learning how to use effective commands and establishing clear limits, household rules and routines will make life a lot easier for everyone. Children will feel more confident about themselves and less apt to misbehave. Clear-cut expectations and routines make children feel safe and secure. Some children will do things that are “wrong” because they have never been told what is right or there has been a lack of consistency and they just don’t know. When parents do what they say they’re going to do, children will trust what their parents say is the truth.

For more articles related to child development and parenting, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.


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