How to Get Kids To Do Things The First Time You Ask


What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective

You have so much you have to get done for your family and around the house… When you ask your kids to do the things that you KNOW they can do, you expect them to be able to do it the first time you ask.

So when you ask them to get their shoes on but 10 minutes later they haven’t even started…

Or when you ask them to go to sleep but they keep getting out of bed…

Or when you tell them it’s time to do chores but they don’t do anything until you’ve started to yell at them.

It’s frustrating, exhausting, and it often feels downright disrespectful. But you don’t know how to make them do what they don’t want to do.


What This Is Like From a Child’s Perspective


Children simply don’t have the same agendas — or skills! — that adults do.

We want them to get on their shoes at the same time that they had an idea for how to build their next Lego car.

We want them to go to bed, but they have a difficult time just “lying there” as they fall asleep.

We want them to do their chores, but chores are boring for them and their brains aren’t wired to do boring things. And they don’t know how to overcome that.

Children don’t know why they struggle to do what we ask…but they will struggle until we teach them tools to do better.



How It Usually Goes When

Kids Won’t Do What We Ask The First Time We Ask



Kim’s mom asks her to get dressed while she goes to do a few things. She tells her she’ll be back in 5 minutes. When she comes back in 5 minutes, Kim hasn’t even started getting dressed.


Mom: Kim! Are you kidding me?! I asked you to get DRESSED?

Kim (defensively): I WAS getting dressed.

Mom: It doesn’t look like you’ve done a thing! You’re still in your pajamas.

Kim: I started to…

Mom: No you didn’t! I don’t see any of your pajamas off yet.

Kim: Yes I did. You’re so mean!

Mom: Mean? All I did was ask you to get dressed. If you think that’s mean…

Kim: Stop it!

Mom (getting more frustrated as she thinks about the fact that they have to leave): Kim. Just get dressed. You know how… Just do it!

Kim (starts crying and doesn’t make a move to get dressed).


How It Could Go Instead When

Kids Won’t Do What We Ask The First Time We Ask



Kim’s mom asks her to get dressed while she goes to do a few things. She tells her she’ll be back in 5 minutes. When she comes back in 5 minutes, Kim hasn’t even started getting dressed.


Mom: Kim, you haven’t gotten dressed yet.

Kim: I started to…

Mom: Hmm… But I see they’re not on. 

Kim (defensively): But Mom, I started to!!

Mom: OK. Then what happened?

[expand title=”CALM”]

Kim’s mom doesn’t see any evidence that Kim started to get dressed. She also knows that arguing with Kim is not going to help Kim get dressed.

So she stays calm and doesn’t insist that Kim is wrong. [/expand]

Kim: I don’t know…

Mom: OK. I bet you got distracted. There are so many other things you could do in this room besides get dressed!


[expand title=”CONNECT”]

Kim’s mom knows that in order to get Kim to act responsibly, she has to see the situation from Kim’s perspective.

So she recognizes that staying on task  is not a skill that Kim has mastered yet. Pointing this out to Kim will make her less defensive and more aware of what she needs to work on. [/expand]

Kim: Yeah.

Mom: Well it is time to get dressed. And we can’t do anything else until you have all your clothes on. BUT… we can make getting dressed more interesting.


[expand title=”CORRECT”]

While Kim’s mom respects that Kim is missing tools, she also needs to set a boundary.

Kim needs to get dressed, so her mom teaches her how to stay focused on a task that isn’t engaging. She focuses on being firm while teaching Kim tools to be successful

If she wants Kim to do things the first time she asks in the future, she will need to teach Kim this tool PROACTIVELY. [/expand]


Kim: How?

Mom: What if you take your pajamas off… and as you’re doing that, I’ll make a trail with your clothes. Then you follow the trail and put each piece of clothing on as you come to it. What do you think?

Kim: OK. (She starts to get undressed).


Note: If Kim still resists, it’s because she’s in Yuck. At that point, Kim’s mom need to help Kim release her Yuck. Usually that is about re-stating the boundary firmly and letting Kim get upset. Once she’s on the other side of the Yuck curve, Kim will act more cooperatively.



The Foundation That Is Required for This to Work


Though Kim’s mom used the Calm, Connect, Correct strategy, proactive deposits will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If you want to give your child tools to be successful (so they can do what you ask), remember: 


[expand title=”Depositing into CALM”]

You will only be able to stay calm when

a.) your own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are met (otherwise you won’t have a reserve to draw from and you’ll immediately go into Yuck)

b.) you don’t have the expectation that your children will have the same priorities that you do

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm. [/expand]


[expand title=”Depositing into CONNECT”]

You will be able to connect if

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons (in a case like this, that when a child isn’t doing what you ask the first time, there is a reason)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively. [/expand]


[expand title=”Depositing into CORRECT”]

You will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “You need to get dressed.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively. [/expand]