J driving a tractor at age 4

A Simple Test: Reinforcing Listening and Kindness with a Child

“I need you to listen the first time.” | “Be nice to your brother!” | “If you can’t follow directions, we can’t go.” | “Can you hear my voice?”

Any of those phrases sound familiar? Knowing that children respond to games as a way to reinforce behaviors, I came up with an idea recently that was very successful with our 4 year old. Using this test is a good idea sparingly; don’t use it every time you are about to do something fun. Novelty goes a long way with most humans, but when you’re at your wits end and you are trying to engage them in a fun activity (e.g. going to a community event), then say it is time do a quick test to make sure your child can follow directions, listen, and be kind. As their parent, it’s your job to evaluate how well they do on the score; remember, you want to take them to this fun thing, so your goals is to set them up for success and evaluate them as passing.

Test 1: Following Directions

Make sure you have your child’s full attention and start with something similar to, “Okay NAME, test number one is to see how well you can follow directions. Are you ready?”
Here are some examples:

  • Take two steps forward, then jump as high as you can.
  • Sit on the floor in criss-cross-apple-sauce and put your hands on your head.
  • I want you to run and touch that wall, then stop and say “Freeze!”

Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. You are not testing their memory, but their ability to follow directions that contain at least 2 distinct steps. Tell them if that they passed and why, briefly, before moving on to test number two.

Test 2: Listening

You want to have them repeat a phrase using simple language they know. Start with, “Please repeat this sentence…” Don’t be afraid to be a little silly! Some examples again:

  • I love SIBLING’S NAME very much.
  • Ice cream is my favorite treat.
  • Daddy is taller than a mountain!

You can increase complexity based on your child’s personal language development, but remember, we want them to succeed and success isn’t perfection.

Test 3: Being Kind

Making good choices and being kind is something very important that most parents want to instill in their kids once basic needs are met. Therefore, we want to convert the sometimes combative relationship we have with our children over listening into a positive reinforcement for our love. Examples:

  • Do something kind for mommy.
  • Show me how to give a really great hug.
  • What is the last nice thing mommy or I did for you?

They may have an idea, “is a hug kind?” and it’s okay to say yes. You want the thought and action, even if they need a nudge on the way there.

Test Passed

Congratulate them on passing the test (two out of three, heck, one out of three, whatever you need to reshape that negative behavior) and say they are ready to go do FUN THING. Be excited, show them some love, and try your darnedest to not change the vibe for the next few minutes, else risk losing all that work. Good job parent!

This can apply to most children that can communicate with language, I just happened to come up with this when my child was 4 years old

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