The 'gentle reminder' is my number one discipline strategy for getting children's attention and getting things done.
My friend Wally was talking with Jared, his neighbour, in Jared’s garage. Jared’s 5 year-old son, Michael, had been riding his bike when some friends asked him to play. Michael was thrilled. He rode down the driveway, did a big skid in the centre of the empty garage, and raced past his dad (and Wally) to join his friends.
“Michael! Get back here right now!” his father barked. As Michael stopped his sprint and turned to face his father, Jared reached out and picked his son up. He held him high above his head as the lecture began. “How many times have I told you Michael? If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times. Your bike does not belong on the ground! It belongs against the wall, dammit!”
Jared’s face was flushed red as he aggressively pounded the same message into his son that he had delivered time and again. “Why do I have to keep on repeating myself? Why won’t you just do as you’re asked for once? If you can’t treat your things properly, I won’t buy them for you anymore!”
Jared glanced sideways, remembering Wally was standing beside him, watching. While still holding Michael above his head, Jared growled, “I love you” at his son before putting him back on the ground. The young boy scampered into the garage to rectify the bicycle situation.
I believe that the whole situation might have been dealt with far more simply, kindly, and effectively if Jared had employed a ‘gentle reminder’ to help Michael do what was expected of him. As Michael raced out of the garage, rather than yelling, lecturing, and threatening, Jared could simply have called out,
“Michael. Your bike.”
No big noises. No need to man-handle. No need to threaten, yell, or lecture.
Just three words.
I suspect that Michael would have stopped. Thought about those words for a second or two, and then replied, “Oh, sorry dad”, before running back into the garage to fix his bicycle placement issues.
We make it so hard
When our children don’t listen to us, or fail to obey us the first time, we seem to think they are deaf. As such, we raise our voices. We yell to get their attention and to make them know our expectations. But yelling doesn’t make anyone feel good. It leaves relationships feeling icky, and leaves our children feeling like we are nasty. Besides, hearing is not the problem. If you asked the kids if they wanted a lolly, they’d hear.
Alternatively we lecture, but the only person learning from what we are saying is us. The kids have tuned out.
The best way to discipline our children (that is, to teach them good ways to act) is to clearly, gently, and confidently remind them of what they’ve forgotten.
“Abbey, your bedroom.”
“Callum, your school shoes.”
“Jemma, the dishes.”
“Braden, your towel.”
How it works
The gentle reminder works because when children hear their name, their ears prick up. It works because we don’t say too much. Instead, we keep it brief and relatively impersonal. It works because they have to do the thinking (rather than zone out from our lecture). They have to work out why we’re saying “your bag” or whatever it may be. And it works because we convey a simple expectation that they will act.
When it doesn’t work, the remedy is simple. Walk over to your child. Make sure they’re not doing something important. If they are, give them time to finish it and then go back to them. Then look into their eyes, smile, hold their hands, and give them the gentle reminder again. Then wait.
Gentle reminders get more done with less fuss than ranting, raving, lecturing, threatening, and carrying on like a deranged and out of control parent. They are my number one strategy for getting children’s attention, and getting things done.
Read more about the 'gentle reminder' and other discipline strategies in my book.