For Parents
12-23 months
Teaching Children What To Do

Teaching Children What To Do

July 7, 2022

It may seem silly, but children are not born knowing how to behave, how to handle their emotions, or how to express themselves in a way their caregivers like.
Instead of focusing on techniques that address the negative behavior you are seeing, a great way to encourage more positive behavior is by using prompts.

What are prompts?

Prompts are directions that you give your child.

Prompts are specific. They tell your child exactly what you want them to do. For example, you can say, “Please walk calmly”  instead of “Stop running.”

Prompts are statements, not questions. They don’t say “Could you,” “Will you,” or “Can you.”

Effective prompts

Are said calmly with a pleasant voice and the word “please.”

Are said close to your child – not shouted across the house.

Are followed by praise for the behavior. Praise should be specific, enthusiastic and include a physical touch like a high-five.

Are broken into parts if the task is big. For example: “Please put the trucks in the bin.” [praise]  “Please put your clothes in the hamper.”  [praise] instead of “Please clean up this room.”

Are repeated no more than twice.  If the prompt is ignored, you can move on and try again later, or do the task yourself.  There is no need for lecturing or discussion, which only focus more attention on negative behavior.

Why this works

By telling your child what TO DO and then praising that behavior, you effectively teach your child how to act and behave because your attention and praise is the ultimate reward.  When you tell children not to do something, it isn’t always clear what they should do instead.  By using prompts, you are telling them exactly what you want from them – and hopefully getting a chance to praise them for doing it!

This information presented above is based on the work of Alan Kazdin and the Yale Parenting Center.  For more information, please visit http://yaleparentingcenter.yale.edu/

Content created in partnership with

Seedlings Group

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