Coming when called

I have a temperamental son who is nearly 6 and when I call him, he doesn’t come or has to be told several times. What can I do to change this behaviour? I’m afraid that if I don’t nip it in the bud now- I’ll have my hands full soon.

Imagine that you are reading a book or watching your favourite TV show, and suddenly your husband or wife calls out for you to come into the kitchen. Do you stop what you’re doing and go to your partner? Or do you become irritated at the interruption and either ignore him or ask him to wait until the show or the chapter is finished? I doubt that you come running immediately unless you have a really controlling spouse!

Why do we think that children should be any different from adults in this regard? Young children, like adults, become involved in what they’re doing. Many young children also have difficulty making transitions from one activity to another. They get involved in doing something and don’t want to have to interrupt what they’re doing just because some adult in another room wants them to stop and come to her immediately. This is normal. We need to treat our children with the kind of consideration we would expect for ourselves. Go into the room where your son is and see what he’s doing. If he’s playing, get his attention and tell him what you want and when you need him to come. If he’s watching a TV program, wait for a commercial before interrupting him.

It helps to give kids plenty of notice when you want them to stop what they’re doing and do something else or go somewhere. “Dinner will be ready in 10 minutes.” “We have to leave in 15 minutes.” Teach your son to tell time so that he can estimate how soon he needs to get moving. You probably have a pretty good idea of how long it takes your son to get changed or use the bathroom, so give him enough notice so that he can wind up whatever he’s doing, put his toys away, and get ready for the next activity. Don’t estimate on the basis of how long it would take you – an adult can get ready much faster than a child, and children get distracted more easily than adults.

The goal of child-rearing is to produce a human being who is kind and respectful rather than just obedient. If you set an atmosphere of respect in your home by respecting your child and his interests and activities, he will repay you by respecting you.

What do you do if you’ve done all this and your son still doesn’t stop what he’s doing and come for the next activity? You may need to offer him some kind of reward (e.g. an extra bedtime story) if he comes at the times you’ve asked him to come. Dogs always come when called, because they’re trained with food treats! And if he isn’t dressed when it’s time to go to school, and you’ve given him plenty of notice, put his clothes in a bag and carry them with you in the car while he comes in his pajamas. That experience only has to happen once!

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