Improve Behavior with the “Tell Them What to do Method” – Autism, ADHD

You know the feeling, 

You’re tired, frustrated and your patience has run out. 

You scream “STOP IT!” or “QUIT!” 

I get it!

But here’s the problem.

We often tell our children what NOT TO DO but not what TO DO.

When we use vague words like “ENOUGH!”, we aren’t giving our children clear instructions of what to do.

Before saying anything to your child, think about these 3 things  – 

1) Take a breath and remind yourself that your child is not giving you are a hard time they are having a hard time.

2) Ask yourself, “What is my child’s behavior telling me about what he/she needs right now? Do they need attention? Are they confused? Are they having trouble communicating their needs?

Are they feeling anxious?”

3) Think about what specific instruction you can give to your child that they CANNOT do at the same time as the behavior you want them to stop.

Let’s look at some examples – 

Jack is jumping on the bed.
Father: “Stop jumping on the bed! I’ve told you a hundred times!”   

Jack is jumping on the bed.
Father: “Please stand next to me”  (while pointing down to the floor).
He stops and stands next to his father.
Father: “Thank you for listening super fast! Do you want to jump on the trampoline together for 5 minutes?” 

This is a great example of telling your child what to do in a calm and specific way.

The father realized that his child needed to jump but he didn’t want him to jump on the bed. He instructed him to stand next to him (one-step instruction)  If he would have just said to “stop” and didn’t tell his child what to do, both father and son would have a meltdown. Again, he noticed that his son needed to jump so he suggested the trampoline which was a better option.  
Here is another example- 

Melanie is talking loudly 
Mother: “Please stop yelling!”


Melanie is talking loudly.

Mother: “Please tell me about Hatchimals (special interest) in a lower voice.”

Melanie lowers her voice.

Mother: “Thank you for lowering your voice. I can hear you better now.”   

Sometimes children who are wired differently are loud talkers and they don’t even realize it.  You don’t want to say, “Stop yelling! This isn’t a clear instruction and will likely make you and your child feel bad. The mother thought carefully about how to make her child successful before she even responded. The mother says, “Please tell me…

1) What is my child’s behavior telling me? What does he/she need right now?
2) What specific, one-step instruction can I give my child so he/she can be more successful at this moment?

By using the “Tell Them What to Do” method, you can be clear about what you expect and provide praise for appropriate behavior.


Holly Blanc Moses

The Mom/Psychologist/Behavior Analyst Who Gets It

P.S You are invited to join my Wired Differently Facebook Group for parents of differently wired children


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