If your child were about to run into the street and there was a large industrial truck barreling down the street toward your child, can you positively say that your child would stop in their tracks when you tell them to stop? If not, you may need to start thinking about implementating a one ask approach. What does this mean? This means you begin parenting with the philosophy that when you ask your child to do something they do it the first time. What a novel idea, right? Does it seem impossible? Not completely. If you parent consistently with the one ask method you will find that you have to ask fewer times and eventually in most instances your child WILL respond to your authority the FIRST time you ask them to do something.

How do you make this happen? It’s pretty simple. You ask once and if the child doesn’t follow through then they suffer a consequence. When you really implement this approach it is work for the parent, as we have to follow through EVERY SINGLE TIME. For example, you are on the couch watching TV and it’s almost bedtime. The kids are playing and you see one child hit another. You calmly say, if you hit again you get a time out. Three minutes later you see the child hit the other child. You have to now get up off the couch, take the child to time out and make sure they sit there the allotted amount of time. It’s work. It takes time and effort. It may take you away from the TV or whatever you may be doing. However, when done consistently your children learn that your words mean something the first time they are spoken.

For most kids they are used to hearing us say the same thing over and over again. “Get off the back of the couch”, “Get Off The Back Of The Couch”, “I MEAN IT, GET OFF THE BACK OF THE COUCH”. Does this sound familiar? You start off calmly and then you get louder and louder. Finally, they take you seriously the third time when you scream it to them. When they know you don’t follow through on the first threat, they learn they don’t need to listen or obey your very first threat. Make your words count. It doesn’t mean you have to yell or speak harshly. It simply means that you begin to follow through the first time you say it and resist the temptation to give just one more warning or threat.

Teach your kids that your words matter. Spend less time threatening and feeling defeated, by getting your kids to listen the first time. In order for them to learn that your word matters you have to follow through EVERY TIME, THE FIRST TIME.

There are three steps to this one ask approach:

  1. One Sentence Response To Bad Behavior: Tell them what they are doing that is not acceptable and they are not to do it again. (Or in some cases it may be actually asking them to do something). Some examples: You are not allowed to watch TV until after your chores, so you need to turn off the TV now. OR You need to pick up your toys in the living room now. Remember, one sentence and say it only once.
  2. One Sentence With a Consequence: Follow number one immediately with another sentence about consequence. Be specific, not something like “you will be in trouble”. A response like that doesn’t carry weight in the mind of a child. You need to be specific and direct. Some good examples: If you don’t do as I ask you will get a 5 minute time out. OR You will lose your TV privileges for the evening if you don’t obey. Keep in mind that the punishment needs to fit the crime. You don’t need to break your child’s spirit. It should be enough of a punishment that it gets the message across, you can follow through with said punishment immediately, and it is a punishment that can be repeated if necessary. Consistency in punishment is important too. Different children respond to different punishments. You need to do what works for your child.
  3. Follow Through: If your child follows through and is obedient then acknowledge their actions verbally. For example: Thank you for being obedient and picking up the toys. OR Thank you for not fighting with your sister, I appreciate it when you two get along. If your child doesn’t follow your specific instructions then it is time to follow through with the punishment. It must be immediate, as children move onto something else very quickly. In order for them to understand consequences to their behavior you have to give them their punishment immediately following their action.

The key to this formula and getting your kids to listen is to stop threatening and asking your kids to obey repeatedly. Ask once, then follow through. Kids are smart. They will figure out that you are doing something different. They will catch on quickly to your methods and will be more likely to acquiesce when they figure out that they are getting double, triple, or even quadruple amount of punishments with your new parenting style. If the punishment matches the crime they will start to listen and respond to your ask the first time.

Keep in mind any new behavior takes some time to catch on, so be patient. Especially with yourself. Consistency is key, but much like a diet, if you fall off the wagon, getting right back on it is the key to success.

Dr. E. Magdalena Battles has a PhD in Academic and Clinical Psychology, a Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Child Psychology. Her specialties include children, domestic violence, and sexual assault.