The road to an uncooperative child is paved with the best of intentions. Intentions-- the presuppositions of our actions-- regarding the behavior of our children are based on the beliefs we have formed through time; particularly during our own childhood. When interacting with their children, most parents intend to teach adequate social skills, good judgment and an understanding of responsibilities. However, the words they select to drive home these points are often insensitive at best-- hurtful at worst; and in all likelihood, counterproductive to the outcome desired.
"Look, I can't always watch my words when Billy acts irresponsible. Some days I'll be annoyed or frustrated from work; or tired and stressed-- you know how it is-- and I just don't have time to coddle him into doing what I want. Besides, kids his age know what's expected of them-- how many times do I have to say the same things?"
People frequently do say the same things...over and over. In the process, they use trigger words that simply turn their children off. Some typical examples include:

  • 1- If-- usually followed by you. The message is received as a threat as in, "If you don't pick up those clothes, I will give them all to the Salvation Army." "If you forget to take the garbage out one more time, there will be no t.v. for a month!" Many children perceive a threat as a challenge and may test the limits of their parent's patience by repeating the offense. Moreover, parents fail to execute these threats, often the products of a temporary and irrational loss of control (Could you imagine the Salvation Army entering your home with several hand trucks and boxes to remove all your child's clothes?). And when parents do not follow through, children do not respond seriously to the situation. In short, we lose the ability to be authoritative. Additionally, these types of threats fail to help children understand the specific relationship between a desired behavior and its consequence. When something you are doing isn't working, stop immediately and do something else! This in contrast to repeating the same desperate, useless behavior time after time; and commenting to your children that you need to do so! In considering doing "something else", perhaps you might try stating a positive instance of a behavior followed by something pleasant that will follow. "As soon as you have placed all these clothes in their appropriate places, come join your father and I for a special dessert." "After you have taken the garbage out you may use the phone to call your friends."
  • 2- House detective words. "Who started it?" "Why can't you...don't you...won't you...listen when someone tells you something?" Hint: Trysaying something worth listening to! Probing questions-- especially, "whys"-- buy very inefficient information. Obviously, when a parent asks why his child did not clean his room, he is not trying to generate excuses. But "whys" do generate lame "becauses." Other ineffective questions such as "who is the one responsible for...” imply that we are looking for someone to blame rather than seeking to resolve the problem effectively. The result is often more chaos. Children do not usually know why they do things. Often, they act impulsively-- that is to say, without conscious awareness. As a parent, your job is to effectively make those things available to their conscious awareness. Try losing the why questions and instead form clear, firm statements: "I would appreciate each of you keeping his hands to himself." "When I am speaking, please look at me and indicate if there's anything you don't understand and I will gladly repeat it." Teach cooperation...not alienation.