Non-compliance is universal and normal. It is a problem when it is excessive and disrupts the daily life. Children have individual personalities and their own likes and dislikes. However, children need to follow reasonable directions from parents, teachers, and other adults. When they don’t it is a source of frustration and stress to adults’ life.
Non-compliance may have many causes. For example:
- Your child may feel that she has little control of many aspects of her life.
- Your child may have a skill deficit and could resist directions because they are difficult or overwhelming for her and so, may not be able to organize herself to begin the task.
- Your child may be experiencing stress at school and then express it through non-compliance at home.
- Your child may be sensing your stress.
- Your child may have a personality that leads her to be non-compliant as an expression of independence.
Most disobedience can be avoided all together or at least reduced by taking the following steps:
1. Try breaking down complex tasks into small steps, and ask your child to do one at the time. Cleaning up a messy room, for example, can be overwhelming. By starting with one or two toys or pieces of clothe can be very helpful in achieving compliance.
2. Give your child choices when possible. For example, instead of telling her what to wear, ask her if she prefers the red or blue shirt.
3. When giving your child a direction, be sure it is a realistic expectation and not a way of venting your frustration.
4. Be sure the direction is clear and concise. Establish eye contact first. Start with a positive comment or interaction before giving a direction to perform a non-preferred activity.
5. Be consistent. If you allowed your child to jump on the couch yesterday do not expect her to stop when you ask her today. If you discontinue the direction because your child throws a tantrum you are teaching her that you don’t mean what you say.
6. Give your child time to process the direction. Asking your child to stop watching TV right now might be a recipe for disaster. Prime her by telling her how much time is left until TV is over. Tell her it will be time to come to dinner after the video is over. In that way you provide your child with time to prepare for the transition.
7. Some children may need visual schedules along with verbal directions. In addition having a picture schedule provides predictability and thus, reduces anxiety. Visit your child’s classroom or Google “Visual Schedules” for creative and motivating ideas.
8. Motivate by making a preferred item or activity contingent on following directions. “First eat your vegetables and then you can have dessert.”
9. Avoid giving directions when frustrated or stressed. If you are late to school asking your child to put on her shoes is not a good idea. Put them on yourself.
By following these relative simple strategies you’ll make your life easier and have more time to enjoy your kids. And don’t tell yourself you don’t have the time. Dealing with challenging behaviors is more time consuming and damages the parent-child relationship.
Daniel Adatto, BCBA