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Secrets of a child whisperer

I am often asked how come my kids listen to me in busy settings like a party or a store, or how do I get through to kids so easily when I practice in my medical office.

Long ago I read a book called “How to behave so your preschooler will too!” by child psychologist Sal Severe. That book is full of great advice on parenting, but it made me realize the advice is underpinned by five seemingly simple key golden rules on how to get your kids to behave:

1) Kids need us to lower the voice if we want them to notice us, listen to us and calm down. Raising the tone, which we often do when we are upset, frustrated or simply when the surroundings are loud, only adds to the child’s excitement or simply gets drowned in the background noise. Raising one’s voice simply doesn’t work. When kids see you are talking to them, but they can’t hear they usually naturally come closer and become more focused on understanding what you have to say. So the crazier it gets around you - the more you need to appear calm and - whisper!

2) We need to be way more specific in our instructions to them. Too often we assume that they know what we mean by what it is like to behave well at the table, at a party or at the store, but they need more specific instructions as to what is expected optimal behavior. I often just stop my kids and ask them to look around - they realise by themselves that no one else is yelling in the isle and I don’t have to say anything else! A Dr. Sal Severe’s suggestion that really works well is to roleplay the various steps involved in an activity such as going to a birthday party from how and when one shakes hands to what to do when we leave. Amazing how well that works!

3) Give them time to do the right thing. Especially when stressed or excited, kids speed is a bit slower than our grown up pace - we expect them to respond or act on what we say, but they need time to process the request. So the proverbial counting to ten before we speak, allows us to see our kids respond the way we had hoped they would.

4) We need to ensure they get a chance to transition from one activity to another. A heads up 5 to 10 min that it’s time to go, with a firm follow up 5 to 10 min later doing what we you had indicated you would do is most effective in getting them to act along.

5) R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Kids need to stay kids and thus know need to know that adults are in charge. But they also need to see our respect for their emerging individuality, so whenever possible do ask them what they would prefer. The ability to choose wisely and to assume one’s choices is an important element of personality development. Just remember the younger they are the less choice to choose between you offer.

Hope this advice helps you as much as it has helped me over the years!


Alexandra T. Greenhill, MD, MOM, CEO and Co-founder myBestHelper

Posted: December 11, 2012