veryone loves to succeed. When we can help our loved ones succeed, we prosper as much as they do because we cash in on their success. For instance, when we can gain our child’s compliance by teaching him how to listen and cooperate, our parenting is easier and more pleasant. When we help our spouse succeed, we naturally reap the benefits, whether he’s fulfilling his obligations, helping us out, giving us the attention we crave, or co-parenting in a way that we trust and appreciate. Their success is ours, and it only makes sense that we should do everything possible to foster it.

“When we go shopping, I tell my kids ahead of time what I will and will not get them in the store. I don’t want them screaming for items that I have to say ‘no’ to. I often get them a small treat to reward cooperation on the way out (after they’ve cooperated!) but even if I don’t, I find that just by telling them what’s going to happen before we go into the store, they know what to expect, and things go quite well.”


Spell It Out

Many times, we assume that a child or spouse should just “know” what we expect. When they don’t deliver, we get upset. However, we need to remember that they’d never expose themselves to our wrath on purpose — it’s just as unpleasant for them as it is for us. Even though they might have suspected or even known full well that their behavior was out of line, they may not have realized how important the issue was for us. We failed to convey beforehand that we would feel great distress if our standards weren’t attained.

“I knew from past experience that if I didn’t spell out exactly what I meant by ‘clean the room,’ I wasn’t likely to get it. So now I’m really clear. I tell them that I don’t want anything left on the floor except the carpet, every book has to be put back in the book box, every blanket has to be folded, and so on. It takes a few minutes to give all the details, but I’m rewarded generously for that small investment of time and effort by a beautifully tidied room.”

Clear instructions help others succeed. If you’ve ever tried to follow instructions for assembling a product, learning a new skill, or operating an appliance, you know how important and helpful it is to have exquisitely clear, step-by-step instructions — with diagrams, if possible! Keep this in mind when you ask loved ones to perform tasks.

“My husband’s not the greatest listener. He doesn’t make eye contact, he’s always fiddling with something or doing something while I’m trying to talk to him, he tries to rush me through what I’m saying and then doesn’t give a satisfying response. I used to complain about this all the time but recently, I switched to setting him up for success by telling him exactly what I want from him and how many minutes I need of his time.

Now that he knows what I want and that it won’t take more than four minutes, he can actually succeed — and I give him tons of positive feedback for his efforts! I wish I would have thought of this sooner. I would have gotten what I wanted, and we would have had far fewer fights.”


Teach and Train

Another aspect of helping the family succeed is making sure that the members are capable of doing what’s asked of them.

“I was very insistent that the children treat each other respectfully: no name calling, pushing, shoving, or grabbing. We had strict rules. However, whenever there was a dispute, they inevitably fell into their ‘savage’ ways.”

Telling people what not to do doesn’t always translate into success. It’s important to teach them what to do and give them ample opportunity to practice. This parent needs to show her children exactly what they can say and do when they feel provoked or challenged by a sibling. Role playing and practice sessions when there isn’t an actual issue occurring can help wire in new patterns of behavior that can then be called upon in real moments of stress.

Always make sure that your loved ones can actually perform the desired behaviors before expecting them to do so. They’ll be set up for success right from the start.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 643)