How can I get my child to do what I ask?

It’s quite normal for children to not always do as they’re told. Giving clear instructions and boundaries can help.

For these to be effective, introduce them alongside positive reinforcement. Spend time with your child, give lots of praise, and keep rewarding the behaviours you want to see more of.

Dad with baby girl on his shoulders whilst mother high fives her

Tips for all ages

  • Get your child’s attention and make eye contact. Try not to yell instructions from another room – go to where they are.
  • Have a clear idea what you want them to do, then give simple instructions.
  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you” – it’s important to be polite and respectful.
  • Give one task or request at a time.
  • Give your child time to process instructions. This can take 10-15 seconds or longer if they’re in the middle of something. They may also need a lead-in to the request. For example, “Dinner is in 10 minutes. Please pack your things away before we eat.” You can follow this with the request: “Please pack away your toys. It’s time for dinner.”
  • Check they’ve heard and understood what you want them to do: ask them to repeat the request back to you.
  • You may need to use a consequence if your child won’t do as asked. However, give a warning first so they have a chance to try.
  • Praise your child while they’re doing the task and let them know how pleased you are when they’re finished.

    Tips for teenagers

    Teenagers are developing their independence. Let them take responsibility for carrying out tasks.

    • Give them tasks to do in their own time, perhaps with a deadline. For example, ask them to tidy their room once a week, but let them pick which day.
    • Talk to them about what rewards they’d like. For instance, pocket money or phone credit as a reward for sticking to the house rules.
    • Pick your battles. Decide what’s most important and focus on that. If getting up and going to school is the priority, you may decide not to argue over what they have for breakfast.
    • Teenagers need positive attention and praise just as much as younger children – give them lots of it.
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