My 4-year old seems to be having some difficulty hearing me. Whenever 1 need or want him to do something, I have to tell him 3 or 4 times before he complies. By that point, I'm usually using an impatient tone, which elicits the same back from him. How can we break this cycle and get him to do what I ask him the first time?
There are several tools that I can suggest to encourage your child to do what you want. We often say 'to
co-operate; but what we really mean is - to do what we want. But first you need to stop asking 3 or 4 times. If asking once doesn't work, try another tactic. One method may work better with your child, and not with another. Or it may work in one situation and not in another. Experiment. Just knowing that you have many options should allow you to feel more confident and to not get frustrated. Try to speak in a tone that is confident and suggests that you expect your child to comply. You don't have to threaten. You don't have to grovel. When you get irritated you are teaching your child which buttons he can push. This is certainly a skill that precedes walking and talking.
One reason you don't want to threaten is that you don't ever want to engage in a power struggle (at least not intentionally). Often you can't make your child do what you want anyway. I am assuming that you agree punishment is never an option. Logical consequences are an option.) Our real goal is to teach desirable behavior, not to do battle and to win. When it is appropriate you can briefly explain the situation. But remember extended dialogue is not absorbed, and can easily lead to parent-deafness.
You might want to start with: “After you put your shoes on, we can go to the park”. You should say that only once in a kind and firm voice. Move on as if you expect the shoes to appear on the feet. If they don't, continue to move on. When your son protests you can say: “Oh, I'm sorry we can't go to the park today because I see you didn't put your shoes on. You can try again next time.” End of conversation.
I had this experience in my school just today. I sang the song to come to the lunch table. One child (who knows the routine very well) obviously chose to ignore me. I asked : “Do you want to come to the table by yourself or should I carry you?' No answer. So I carried him and placed him in the chair. He protested about 30 seconds and then proceeded with lunch. This tactic works well with young children who are trying very hard to be independent. They usually resent help with something that they are able to do. When faced with a choice of having to comply or losing their independence, they will usually comply. Sometimes they test every so often to make sure the game plan hasn't changed. Make sure it hasn't!
Example #3 Perhaps humor will work with your child. You can sing the (Raffi) song 'Oh me, oh my. I don't need a dinosaur to put on my shoes. Because I know what to do and so do you. I can put my shoes on all by myself.' A little bit of humor goes a long way to elicit cooperation (or compliance).
If you know your child knows what you want him to do (and you have had difficulty in the past in this area), don’t say anything. Just point. It is not only very dramatic, but it clearly sends a message that says you are not available for debate.
Whenever possible, don't ask your child to do something, e.g. pick up a jacket. You can simply make him aware of the situation assuming you have previously taught him what is appropriate behavior). So instead of saying 'Pick up your jacket.' You could say 'I see your jacket on the floor.' There are several reasons for this. First, children (and most of us), resent being told what to do. Resentment leads to other problems down the line, but I won't go into that now. Another reason is that we want children to start making connections and choices on their own. We want them to be able to pick up their jacket even when we aren't there to coax, remind or even alert them. Free thinking (which is my primary goal), has humble beginnings. Remember, the main point is to remain calm and firm. Maybe you won't have immediate success, but know that you are well informed, you are patient, and you have several tools to experiment with. Oh, yes, you can probably expect resistance when you begin to employ a new method. So now you can be well informed, patient and strong in your commitment. As always, you are welcome to call if none of the above has helped you.