Many parents see a problem and start giving instructions immediately. This often means that they yell across the parking lot or bark commands from one side of the house to the other. We believe this approach isn't the best. It's not enough to see the need and tell someone to respond to it. That approach doesn't demonstrate value for the relationship. Parenting isn't just about getting tasks done; it's about building relationships at the same time.
Start by getting close to your child. Most of the time this means that before you give an instruction you call your child over to you. This presents a problem in many young families because preschoolers often don't come when they're called. The fact is, even older children don't come when they're called unless they are taught to do so.
Take time to teach your children how to come when you call them. It takes practice but it's well worth the work. Parents often ask, "What do I do in the grocery store when I call my preschooler and he runs away?" Well, the grocery store isn't the place to practice. That's the final exam! By practicing over and over at home and at the park, children are then able to respond in public.
Like every step in a good instruction routine, getting close to each other requires changes from both child and parent. Children also find it tempting to yell across the house. Now children learn that dialogue only takes place when relationship has been established through eye contact and being physically close together. Sometimes it's the small things that demonstrate that a parent cares or that a child is willing to listen. Putting down the paper, looking up from the computer, or just turning to face your child before you speak communicates the importance of what you are about to say.
Some parents report major improvement in a child's responsiveness when they just implement this step and give instructions only when the child is within a few feet. Sometimes that little nonverbal statement about your relationship is all that's needed to gain a more cooperative attitude from your child.