Seat your children around the table and in a very calm, pleasant, controlled voice and demeanor say:
|Parent:||“Children, when I call you for dinner I expect you to be seated at the table within 30 seconds after I call you. Billy, what do I expect you to do when I call you for dinner?”
Note : Don’t ask the children if they understand what you are saying. A yes or no answer is not sufficient. Be sure you get a substantive response so you know they heard you and understood you. Also, direct your question to an individual child, not to all the children at once.
|Billy:||“Ah, Mom, this is dumb! Don’t treat me like a baby. I know what you mean when you tell me to come to dinner.”
Note : If the child should respond in this way, be very careful that you are not drawn into an argument or an unrelated discussion about your intelligence or how mature the child is. Rather, simply restate your question.
|Parent:||“Billy, what do I expect you to do when I call you for dinner?”
Note : This is called the broken record approach. It instructs us that if a child’s response is not in line with what we expect, ignore that response completely and restate, perhaps rephrase, the question. If you do this calmly and without argument, the probability is very, very great the child will give you an appropriate answer, typically requiring no more than two repeats of the question/direction. The child’s response might be given grudgingly and sullenly, but don’t attend to any of that junk behavior, as follows:
|Billy:||“Oh, this is stupid. You want me to come to the table when you call me!”|
|Parent:||“Thank you, Billy, That is exactly what I expect. When I call you, I expect you to come to the table. Thank you for that answer.”
Note : With this response the parent has cut through all of the extraneous junk behavior and has gotten immediately to the heart of the matter. The response the parent wanted was the response that got the parent’s attention, and as we learned earlier, behaviors that are attended to in a positive way are behaviors that are strengthened. Remember, pay no attention to those inconsequential behaviors you don’t want repeated.
|Parent:||(Turning to another child), “Mary, how quickly do I expect you to come to the table when I call you?”
Note : Since Billy didn’t give the parent a complete answer (he didn’t say “within 30 seconds”), it is necessary to pursue the expectation until all aspects of the question have been adequately addressed and responded to.
|Mary:||“I don’t know. I forgot.”
Note : Unless parents get substantive responses from their children regarding expectations, it is altogether possible that key components of the expectations will be left unaddressed only to cause problems in the future.
|Parent:||“Listen carefully, Mary. When I call you to the table I expect you to be seated within 30 seconds. Mary, when do I expect you to be in your chair at the table after I call you?”
Note : You will notice that the parent prompted the child to pay attention by saying “Listen carefully, Mary.” This is a directing, sometimes redirecting, statement. Whatever you do, don’t say some dumb thing like “For heaven’s sake! Don’t you ever listen to anything I say?” Sometimes, since children’s minds wander, particularly in situations where they are not happy, it is helpful to prompt them to pay attention.
|Mary:||“You expect me to be in my chair within 30 seconds after you call me. But Mom, that isn’t fair! What if I’m busy doing something? Am I just supposed to drop it and come to dinner just because you called?”|
|Parent:||“Thank you, Mary, for listening carefully. You are exactly correct. I expect you to be seated at the table within 30 seconds after I call you.”
Note : Notice, the parent did not get side-tracked by the child’s resistance to the expectation. The parent complimented the child for listening carefully and repeated to the child what she said that was consistent with the parent’s expectation. Everything else was left unattended. Don’t give attention to any behavior you don’t want repeated! (What principle of behavior applies here? Look back at principle #1: Behavior Is Strengthened or Weakened by Consequences.)