Give instructions only once


The Ezzos continually remind us to never repeat instructions to our children. There’s a fine line between reminding children of our expectations and nagging. When we nag, our children learn to ignore our word. And this is potentially one of the worst things that could happen to a parent.

The idea is so important, it is called out as Childwise Principle #12.

“Constantly reminding a child to do what is expected only means you have no expectation,” (On Becoming Childwise).

This is so true! Why shouldn’t our children obey the first time we give an instruction? When we set the expectation that they obey the first time, they are more likely to do so. This is especially true when we take the time to train our children in first-time obedience. Training them to say “yes, mommy” and give us eye contact are two very important steps in eliminating the need to constantly remind our children.

The effects of long-term reminders are far-reaching:

“What happens when the reminders aren’t repeated in successive sentences but over a period of hours, days, or weeks? No wonder the child doesn’t appropriate your instructions: there are no consequences for neglecting them, and anyway they’ll be repeated tomorrow so why remember today? At what point will you stop reminding?” (On Becoming Childwise).

It all comes down to accountability.

“When parents continue to instruct and remind their children how to behave after accountability training has been achieved, they are taking back ownership of a behavior that should no longer belong to them,” (On Becoming Childwise).

There are three very important ways you can eliminate the need to remind your child:

  1. Simply expect that your child will comply. Set the bar high, and he will rise to it.
  2. Get your “yes, mommy” and eye contact before giving an instruction.
  3. Maintain eye contact, even if you need to gently hold his chin, while you give an instruction.

If you do these three things, you will have no doubt that your child heard your instruction. And you can move on to appropriate consequences if he chooses to disobey.


  1. Joanna LaFleur says:

    I read your book and I am still struggling with how FTO will look like for my 19 mo old. She doesn’t really talk much yet but has been shaking her head yes when I ask her something. She does not like to give me eye contact tho and gets mad when I pull her face toward me. Should I be giving consequences yet if she doesn’t look at me or shake head yes? Also I’m struggling with the not saying things more than once. Like to pick up her toys. She will pick up 1 or 2 then play and I have to say it again. Is this okay? And while I’m practicing these steps what should I be doing if she disobeys, acts out in public, or hits (those are our main issues right now). Thanks for your help.

  2. Hi Joanna. What happens when you call your daughter’s name? Does she look you in the eye then? Or does she completely ignore you? All of this will take lots and lots of practice. FTO is no quick fix that’s for sure. As I mention in the e-book, I wouldn’t give any consequences. You are still in training. She’s still young. Just remind her and move on. Find other times in the day for more practice and play an FTO game. Try to keep everything as positive and light-hearted as possible.

    As for repeating yourself, try to break the job down. Instead of telling her to pick up her toys, say, “Let’s put these books on the bookshelf. Come help me please.” Then you can move on to dolls, blocks, etc. We also sing the clean up song. My little one couldn’t not clean up when I sang that song! It was like Pavlov’s dogs! Here’s an example: This isn’t the song we sing, but it’s just as cute.

    We have also played clean up games. I’ll put a fast-paced song on the CD player and challenge them to clean up before it ends. She might be a little young for this idea, but the fast pace might get her moving.

    If none of that works, and she’s still not cleaning up, I would actually take her hands into your own and help her clean up. Lead her by the hand over to the toys, and without saying a word, pick up a toy together and put it away. She might fight it at first, but that will at least get her going.

    If she puts one or two toys away, I would wait. See what happens. If she still plays after a minute or two, take her hands and help her. That will get her going again without you having to repeat yourself. Another option is to ask her. “I see you’re playing. What are you supposed to be doing right now?”

    As for acting out in public, you will just have to remove her from the situation. Take her to the bathroom or out to the car. Then give her a stern mommy talk. When Lucas was little and he would throw food or whatever in a restaurant, I would swiftly take him out of the high chair and take him to a dark corner near the restrooms. Holding him tightly, I would say, “You may NOT throw food. Do you understand?” I would get a head nod or a “yes, mommy” (his version of it at the time) and then ask if he’s ready to return to the table and use better manners. If he did it again, I would repeat the process. The most important thing to do is to have a plan and be consistent. You might even have a practice run at a store. Go without the intention of really buying anything. Walk around and wait for her to disobey. Then you can surprise her by swiftly leaving the store on a second’s notice.

    Good luck!


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