How to Avoid Warning and Reminding

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I have seen you present at my school and I follow your blog. I really like what you have to say but I don’t understand something that I heard you say at my school and you said it in a blog as well. You say that an adult should never remind or warn a child. I guess I don’t understand how that is possible. Please explain.

– Pam, Kansas City, MO


Thanks, Pam. Yes, it seems impossible, right?

To be more clear, and this might seem even more impossible, not only should you never warn or remind kids of the consequences of their actions, you should never warn or remind them about their responsibilities.

First, let’s quickly talk about the “why”, then let’s talk about the “how”.

Why is it important not to remind or warn kids? The reason is simple:

Kids who are warned and reminded need warnings and reminders. Kids who are not warned and reminded don’t need warnings and reminders.

The problem,besides the fact that we are training a child to be irresponsible and annoying, is that when we parent or teach this way, we trick kids into thinking that the world always will give them a warning before something bad happens. Do you hear the distant cries of “not fair” coming from the lips of the child or young adult who has undergone this “warning therapy” when they have a real life problem befall them without warning? Imagine the effect of a young mind being trained that they are immune from consequences until they are given a warning. In very young children, this creates an obnoxious child who constantly needs to be warned and threatened in order to get them to be compliant. As the child ages, continuing to warn them puts the child into dangerous and even life or death situations. More about this in a future blog, but think about how a sixteen year old brain that has been trained to think that a warning will always preceed a consequence will feel about road safety rules like speed limits. Might they be more likely to go 80 mph through a school zone thinking (perhaps subconsciously) that nothing bad could happen immediately because they “know” that a warning has to happen first? Might it be a good idea to train our kids to understand the real life fact that bad things could happen to them as a result of bad choices at any time? Or, should we trick our kids into thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to them without there being a warning first?

How do warnings and reminders manifest themselves in a classroom? What if you plan on warning every child in your class before any consequence befalls a student? If you have 25 students, do you really want to train everyone in your class that twenty-five things can go wrong before anything happens to anyone? Yikes.

How do warnings and reminders manifest themselves in your home? While you may not have twenty-five kids in your house, the few that you may have are really hard to get away from! If you have just three children and you need to warn them about the consequences for their actions or remind them to be responsible for their lives, it can be absolutely exhausting.

So, enough of the “why”, here’s the really helpful part: the “how”. How do we avoid warnings and reminders, especially when, without them, kids seem to always be doing the wrong thing?

First, when kids break rules or are irresponsible in major ways, they should have consequences befall them. The daughter who forgets to feed the dog should be gently woken up at 3 am to do so. The son who forgets to take out the trash should have to pay for a hauling company to take the trash away. No money? No problem! Pawn shops accept video games! The student who goofs off during the pledge of allegiance should come in at recess and practice standing at attention and saying the pledge. The student who has to be told to stop causing problems for his classmates has to come after school and give back the energy that the teacher had to use in order to tell the child to stop by doing some work for the teacher so that the teacher doesn’t have to do that work, thereby getting their energy back. This is a great Love and Logic(R) strategy called “energy drain”.

“But, wait,” you might say, “How could I possibly have the time and energy to dole out consequences all day long?”

Great question. The answer is two-fold:

1) When you calmly give out logical consequences, giving empathy first, you often only have to give out the consequence once in order for them to learn the lesson, but more importantly…

2) There are alternatives to warnings and reminders that have the positive effect of warnings and reminders (getting the kid to do what she’s supposed to be doing) without the negative effects (training the child to need warnings and reminders before they do what they need to do). They allow you to use just a few words and remain calm. Here are just a few:

Ripple Noticing: When you want to remind a child to be responsible for something, but don’t want to train them to need a reminder, you can notice something one child has done that will prompt the less responsible child to remember to do what you are noticing of another child. For example, at home:

Kid Whisperer: Chloe, you always remember to hang up your coat. Thanks for taking such good care of our house.

(Big brother Jason jumps up and hangs up the coat that was previously strewn about the hallway)

At school:

Kid Whisperer: I have a lot of agendas turned in so far.

(Jason “remembers” to turn in his agenda)

The “You Know What to Do” Technique: I use this constantly. Think how often in our daily lives we tell kids what to do when they know exactly what to do. Not only are we wasting our breath, you are giving them the implied message, “you are stupid.” I use this every day, Monday through Friday, at exactly 9:05 when my kids (students) are finishing breakfast.

Kid Whisperer: Three big bites, three big sips, you know what to do.

(Kids quickly eat their last bites of high carb food and drink their last sips of milk before throwing their breakfasts away)

Quick compliance on ending breakfast easily tripled when I switched to this instead of “throw your trash away.” I also used to use this at the end of the day as a way to get my kids to line up for buses.

Kid Whisperer: 3:17, you know what to do.

One day a few years ago, I lost track of time and one of my students said this for me… and everyone lined up. I didn’t have to say it again for the entire year. Now I simply ask one kid to say it for me in September and I never have to remind them of this ever again.

Ask a Question: My friends at the Love and Logic Institute taught me this one. It might be the single best strategy I have ever learned. I probably ask the same question thirty times a day. When a child is doing the wrong thing or doing nothing (when he should be working), I simply say this:

Kid Whisperer: What should you do now?

(Kid thinks, and then does what he should be doing)

It works pretty much every time, even with really difficult kids, because it says to the child “you are smart, you know things” instead of saying telling a child what to do, which says “you’re pretty stupid, I need to tell you to do things, even things that are blatantly obvious to any mammal with a pulse.” Questions force kids to think, while reminders and warnings encourage kids to act as though they are less intelligent than they actually are.

Pam, I hope this helps you to understand how you can avoid reminders and warnings while keeping kids reponsible and compliant and simultaneously keeping your own blood pressure down to healthy levels. –The Kid Whisperer