I watched my son, John, one day while he had his two boys with him, ages 4 and 7. We had met in a parking lot where I wanted him to unload some pumpkins for the kids from my trunk to his trunk. As John started unloading my trunk, the boys wanted to see what he was doing, but they kept getting in the way and the pumpkins were huge. "Get out of the way," John kept telling the boys. But they didn't pay attention. After the third time, he stopped. "Do you know what I am trying to do?" he asked the boys. "Yes, you are getting the pumpkins!" "That's right. And I need to bring them from here, to there. That is where I need you to be out of the way. Can you do that for me?" "Sure, Dad." And they did, no problem. It was fascinating for me to see how clear and concise he was. And also to see that the kids didn't have a clue what he meant when he said 'get out of the way', a simple instruction for an adult, but not for a child.
Children must be given clear instructions in ways that they understand. In other words, not the way you would give instructions to an adult who has a much better basic understanding of life and how things work.
"Use your manners!" is a classic instruction communication problem. It's amazing what we assume children know. For example: 1. Does your child know exactly what manners are? 2. If she does, has she been taught how to use them? 3. If she has, does she understand exactly what manners you are referring to when you say "Use your manners!"? 4. If you think she should know, then ask. "Do you know what I am asking you to do?" or "What am I asking you to do right now, can you tell me?" Many times a child is not willing to do as you ask because she is confused or truly has not grasped what it is that you think you have taught. She may or may not even realize she is confused or that she doesn't know. Children often don't even have that ability to thing through a problem. They are just reacting. Teachable Moments are all about taking the time to give clear instructions and explanations. A child cannot know what they haven't been taught or modeled. Parents who take the time to teach rather than complain or reprimand will be happier parents with happier children.
This is also a place where inconsistency shows up. If the boys had not cooperated with John and continued to get in the way, even after understanding the situation, it would not have been in their best interest to ignore the problem. He would have needed to be consistent. "You are not cooperating. If you can't stay out of the way, then get in the car and wait for me." would be one option. Or, "Let's practice staying out of the way, so I know you understand." Or, "Tell me why you are not doing what I asked you to do." It's a teachable moment, not just for the child, but for the parent to understand the child. Instead of yelling, correcting, snapping at a child, get clear. Teach, teach, teach.
This type of speaking in clear and simple instructions can be used forever. Clarity is always good. Even with adults, we need to be clear in what we are saying and not assume. Teachable moments take time, but they are so very valuable in the long run.