By Amber Chesser, MS, LPC, NCC – STARRY’s Foster Care, Northstar  Program

My 4-year-old daughters have been struggling with listening and obeying and I have been struggling with frustration. It often happens when they are deep in imaginative play with no time to stop and get dressed for the day. I thought I was doing everything just right. I was getting on their level, receiving nice eyes and even verbal confirmation that they knew the task to be completed. But before I knew it, my daughters were off on another adventure once again, still shoeless and in their pajamas. I could feel my frustration rising each time I would repeat the instructions and my daughters would lose focus.

I was reflecting on this scenario that seemed to keep replaying itself and thinking through my TBRI training. I put on my detective hat and began to break down our morning. I recognized that one of the Life Values at the core of this scenario was to listen and obey. I also remembered the power of scripts as taught by Dr. Purvis and I decided to start practicing at home.

One afternoon, I sat down with all of my children and shared with them that I was feeling frustrated when repeating instructions and we were going to learn a new phrase, “Listen and obey the first time.”  We all repeated this phrase together and talked about what this would look like and times they would be reminded of it. Then, together we practiced. I said, “Time to put the shoes in the shoe basket before we can get out the blocks. Remember, listen and obey …” which was met with a resounding “… the first time!” We practiced this several times with different things and then went about our day.

Throughout the next several days, I would remind them of this phrase each time they were asked to complete a task. “When you get into the car, buckle up right away. Listen and obey …” and they would fill in “… the first time.” Then, they began to use the phrase on their own. I would say, “Please put your backpack on your hook,” and they would say, “I remember, listen and obey the first time.” This was always met with a high five and a thank you from me.

The next week, we were running late to an activity and I felt my anxiety rise as I asked them to get dressed and meet me downstairs. I had laid out their outfits and one of my daughters was not excited about having to take off her favorite Moana pajamas. I reminded them to listen and obey the first time and then went downstairs. Within a short time, I heard someone behind me say “Mom, look at me!” I turned around and my daughter was dressed with socks and shoes on. She was so proud of herself! I gave her a big hug and told her how proud I was that she chose to listen and obey the first time.

Sometimes in the business of life, I miss that I have raised the bar (in terms of my expectations) but haven’t communicated that to my children. Each time I blink, they grow older and I did not realize I was expecting them to complete a task without having made that clear to them. Using a script and practicing helped us to get on the same page and use common language. At first, we needed lots of practice together and now with a gentle reminder of the script we practiced, they are off to success – most of the time!

Dr. Purvis says, “Rather than getting angry, make your expectations clear, model appropriate ways to communicate, and gently demonstrate to a difficult child that ‘I want to help you do this right.’ With repetition, your child will internalize correct life values and encode the skills he needs for behaving appropriately.”  (p.94, The Connected Child)