We're All in This Together: Making Effective Requests Without Creating A Power Struggle

We're All in This Together: Making Effective Requests Without Creating A Power Struggle
By Marc Berman, JCFS Foster Parent Recruiter and Trainer

Teaching your child how to cooperate may mean making some changes in how you ask her to do things. She can't be expected to cooperate if she doesn't know exactly what you want. Sometimes parents complicate things by getting too worked up when asking for help. At other times, requests are too vague or confusing. Keep it simple.  Here are four steps to making an effective request:

  1. Get Her Attention... kids of all ages have a hard time staying focused. Two ideas to get her attention may include a gentle touch on the shoulder or saying her name to get her to look at you. A small child may not pay attention until you stand close enough to her to make eye contact.
  2. Be Calm... don't expect a fight before it happens. If you ask her to do something with anger in your voice, it will make her angry too. Then she may not even hear your request.  Keep your voice steady and calm.
  3. Be Specific... give just one direction at a time to make sure she understands you. Breaking down household jobs into small steps is one way to do this. For example, dinner time can be broken down into three tasks: setting the table, washing the vegetables, and putting out the condiments and drinks. To make sure she understands the request, have her repeat it. If it's not clear, you can re-phrase it. This simple step shows that you are patient.

    If you say, "Do you want to take a bath?" you are inviting a refusal. In this case, it's better to ask for what you want such as "Sally, it's time to take your bath now." Parents often ask their kids to clean their room. That means different things to different people. Some families expect the room to be spotless; others just want the toys to be put away. The initial request may be too vague and too complicated, especially for very small children or even teenagers who are easily distracted or indifferent to the task. Parents may need to be more physically present to show children and youth exactly what they want when making a request. This is called "modeling" and it is the most powerful teaching tool parents have.

  4. Encourage Cooperative Behavior... giving encouragement when a child has done what you've asked goes a long way to building healthy, meaningful parent/child relationships. A hug, or a simple, sincere "thank you" may be more important that another type of reward that will lose its value over time.

Remember, we're all in this together, in the best interests of the children and youth in our care. For more information about JCFS Foster Care, call 312.673.2755.