Tools: Got a Six Year Old? Then Start Saying Less

 Just let them know what you need in the simplest way possible. And then stop repeating why.


One of the most challenging things about having a six year old is the number of times you find yourself saying “flush the toilet” or “Don’t just drop your pants right where you take them off, put them in the dirty clothes basket” or any number of other things we, as parents, repeat over and over again.

If you’re like me, you probably then take an extra big breath and EXPLAIN WHY THIS NEEDS TO BE DONE for the 900th time. Score extra “I’m turning into my own worst parenting nightmare” points if you add a tone of frustration or sarcasm to your explanation of why it needs to be done.

My wife, Saliha, the therapist, told me a very simple truth about our son, Sam. “He knows why.”

And therein lies the key to a very simple but magical adjustment in life with a six year old. Just let them know what you need in the simplest way possible. And then stop repeating why. The explanations about why it should be done are not needed. The 900 previous times did the trick. They know why. They probably even agree that its important.

The goal here is the change the laborious dynamic of reminding our kids about the things they forget on a daily basis. If I launch into yet another detailed reminder of why my six  year old son needs to not waste water, I see the lights in his eyes go out. I see him tune out. “Please just finish,” is written all over his body language.

Often, when your six year old forgets to do something, you don’t even need words to explain what you want. A simple example of this might be to just clear your throat and gesture to the pants on the floor. (With a smile.)

Your six year old forgets to do things because they are six.

But they know what’s expected of them and a simple, even fun reminder is the best way to keep the repetition a child needs from driving both of you crazy. The next time you see something you need your child to address, and you want to have some fun think “annoyingly cheerful mime and the toys on the stairs” or, “the excitable dog that found a pair of pants on the living room floor” or “Captain Hook and the open toothpaste tube”.

“Avast, ye maties, there be toothpaste open in the bathroom. Arrrrrrrr! Who’s for getting a star for closing it up good and proper?” (Add lots to stomping around.)

Actually, my son might prefer the following approach: I would come stumbling out of the bathroom with the offending open tube of toothpaste. Very dramatically, I would declare, “Life has no meaning! Oh, woe is me, no meaning!”  I would thrust the tube out. “The lid is off. Oh, woe is me. The lid is off!” By then, he’ll have grabbed it and marched past me in search of the lid just in order to end my performance. I might follow him saying, “But wait. Perhaps there is hope in life! Perhaps all is not lost…”

You get the idea. Then I would honestly thank him for putting the lid on the toothpaste. The one proviso to all of this is that one does not belittle anyone or get negative and sarcastic.

Captain Hook and the Toothpaste Tube gives me a chance to engage my son in a totally different way and create some fun in the process. Often, when I launch into this kind of moment, I can see him searching his mind for what he might have forgotten, even as a smile crosses his face. All of this can reinforce two things. The thing you want him to learn. And that families are meant to have fun.

Now, please understand, this approach is not in leu of the very necessary straight forward instructions and requests that make up most of our daily interactions with our kids. But it does allow us to put some fun into the all too repetitive process of parenting. It reminds us to stop explaining why things need to be done over and over again. And the fun you and your child create together will be remembered long after your child has grown up and moved away. (Presumably to his own house where he will leave his dirty socks on the living room floor all over again.)

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