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Conduct Disorders: Assesssment & Diagnosis
Conduct Disorder  continuing education addiction counselor CEUs

Section 24
Using Simple Requests Effectively

CEU Question 24 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Conduct Disorders
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

The problem with simple requests is that they are not so simple. Requests to children can be made more or less effective by a teacher's tone of voice, the spontaneity of the request and the phrasing of the demand. It child to cooperate Conduct Disorders counselor CEU course has been said that over 90 percent of what we communicate is done non-verbally through body language and tone. Several pieces of advice may be helpful.

Watch that voice! We all have different voices. The voice we're concerned about here is often called our "nagging voice." The nagging voice has a quality of "You're not doing what I expect and it's really irritating and what's the matter with you and when are you going to learn..." etc. Nagging voice has an aggravated and anxious tone that most children themselves find irritating. When this tone of voice is coupled with a request, therefore, it makes cooperation less likely because you are now asking an angry child to cooperate.

A good antidote to the nagging voice is a businesslike, matter-of-fact presentation. "John, it is now time to start your work," or "Taylor, line up." This tone of voice implies, "You may not like this but it's got to be done now." Testing is much less likely when requests are made in a matter-of-fact way, but-believe it or not-the mere tone of voice can also say, "If you test or push me, you'll get counted."

Keep requests short. Keeping the request short (three words or less) can also encourage compliance. With some students using one-step directions with as few words as possible can make all the difference. What might happen, for example if Tricia, who has oppositional behavior to begin with, hears this request: "Now Tricia, I want you to stop talking, pick up your things, and move to the back table. I have had enough of your disruptions. Maybe your sitting away from the group will help"? Tricia is not likely to follow along, because the wordiness of the teacher's request is confusing and invites a power struggle. It may be easier for this little girl to argue with the teacher and end up in time out than to try to sort out the long, convoluted direction she was just given.

A better approach would be for the teacher to say, "Tricia, back table." After all, the teacher's goal is to minimize the disruption. If Tricia moves, the talking will cease. Someone else can bring her materials or Tricia may surprise you and do that automatically.

Spontaneity is dangerous. Although often unavoidable, the spontaneity of a request can also be a cooperation killer. Let's say that music was cancelled for the day but you forgot to note that on the posted schedule. The students were looking forward to music at 1:00, but when that time comes, you let them know that, instead of going to music, it is time to clean out their desks. The students moan, groan and complain.

No one likes spur-of-the-moment interruptions that involve unpleasant tasks. You don't like them either, but you are often stuck with such intrusions. But we're not talking about getting you to cooperate here; we're talking about getting your pupils to cooperate. And we're also not saying children shouldn't have jobs to do. They should help out around the classroom. The point is this: Try to structure tasks so that spontaneous requests are seldom necessary. In the situation just mentioned, it would have been helpful to make the change (music to desk cleaning) on the schedule at the beginning of the day so students could get used to the idea of desk cleaning rather than having it "sprung" on them at the last minute.

Effective phrasing. Finally, the phrasing of a request can also make a difference in how kids respond. Phrasing a request as a question and adding the often ridiculous "we" to the statement will often insure noncompliance or testing and manipulation. A super-sweet "Don't we think it's about time to start our work?" for example, is almost guaranteed to elicit a negative response. In general it is very dangerous to make requests in the form of a question. "Do you want me to call your parents?" or "Do you want to stay after school today?" might receive a "Yes" from a provocative and oppositional student. A better way of phrasing the work question would be, "I want your journal entry complete by lunchtime."

What if, in spite of everything, your simple request still does no good? We'll come back to that question after we've discussed several other Start behavior options.
- Phelan PhD, Thomas and Sarah Jane Schonour, MA, "1-2-3 Magic for Teachers: Effective Classroom Discipline Pre-K through Grade 8", ParentMagic, Inc: Illinois, 2004.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #10
The preceding section contained information about using simple requests effectively. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 24
What are four ways to make simple requests more effective? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

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