Helen Bill

East Riding Life Coach Helen Thorburn is a busy mum of two. Each month she will write about topics that all mums face, take two minutes for yourself to read on…


Is anyone out there? A guide to making requests that small people listen to.





“Put that down! Bath time! Tea’s ready!”


Do you ever feel like taking a recording of yourself to save yourself giving the same instruction over and over again? There are times when it seems virtually impossible to penetrate your child’s eardrums, no matter how many times you repeat yourself. They may hear, but why don’t they listen?


If this is an experience that sounds all too familiar, which I’m sure it does for pretty much all of us at one time or another, here’s a short guide to some tried and tested methods to smooth the way for more co-operative communication. Simple but effective- no time for rocket science when you’re juggling family life. The key to making it work for you? Practice as often as you can so that it becomes a natural habit:


Are you talking to me?

If you can’t make eye contact, use your child’s name and use it first. That way they will know that you’re talking to them and won’t latch on to what you’re saying halfway through. It’s easy to zone out until you hear your name. Also, avoid starting requests with a question word (‘could you’ ‘would you’) if there’s any possibility the answer could be ‘No’!

What do I want to see? Use positive language to state it.

If giving an instruction, state exactly what it is that you want to see ‘Tom, put the pen on the table. Thank you’ rather than what you don’t ‘Don’t throw that pen at her!’

We had a situation in my family when we were little where my dad would always say ‘You’ll spill that drink!’ and we knew he was right, we always would, as he had planted the seed. Poor dad- he only meant to help!

Also: If you do want someone to sit/ eat/ share nicely, check they actually know what that looks like.

Expect a successful outcome.

Ending instructions with a ‘thank you’ implies that you have every expectation in their good character that they will do whatever it is you ask.

Pay attention when you like what you see

When you like what you see, pay lots of attention to it and praise it in order to promote more of it (rather than focus on what isn’t going so well).

Make them feel it’s something they have chosen

If the words ‘Bath time!’ elicit screams of horror in your household (as they can in mine), it may be worth making a change to a limited choice ‘Would you like lots of bubbles or plain water in your bath?’ (adapt as necessary for any occasion ‘Peas or carrots?’ and keep the wording really simple). Nobody- even children- like to be told what they’re going to do. Give them (your) choices so that they feel in control and you get the outcome you want.

What am I saying about myself?

Take a minute to think about what your body language and tone of voice are saying.

How do you look when you speak? This actually communicates a lot more meaning to a person than the words you use. Would you want to listen to yourself? Often when we’re busy we go into default mode and speak without thinking about the language we choose or how we express it.


Finally, stop- and don’t say anything. We do a lot of talking as parents. Sometimes it feels relentless. Actually, to create good listeners, we need to remember take the time to sit and listen to what our children have to say ourselves without interruption.


This is just a start, but these have helped me, both as a parent and a teacher. Best of luck!


Helen Thorburn has worked in education for the past 15 years both as a teacher and in an advisory capacity. Having experienced the positive impact of coaching on young people’s lives through her work in inclusion, she has progressed to coaching adults. She is currently working towards her Level 2 & 3 Diplomas in Life Coaching and delivered her first well-being retreat, in conjunction with Angela Stone Yoga instructor, last year and is currently planning another two retreats for 2016. Look out for regular articles, when Helen will provide East Riding Mums with advice and tips on how to cope with modern family life.

Copyright 2016 Helen Thorburn

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