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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Basic Safety Commands: Come, Sit, Stay, Stop/No Print
Soon after a child’s first birthday, it is imperative that he be able to obey some basic directives from his parents. Without this ability, he is not safe in the world. Oftentimes the ability to follow a parent’s basic commands is hindered when a child has experienced early trauma, including separation from the birth mother. His mind is wired to think in terms of taking care of himself; therefore he thinks that in order to feel safe he must be in control…which can have very dangerous implications for a toddler.

Parents need to be confident of the child’s ability to follow some basic commands such as: come, sit, stay, stop (or no). If a child runs toward the street, his ability to follow a simple, “Stop!” may save his life. If a parent drops a package in the parking lot and needs to return to get it, she must be confident that her child will follow the command to “stay here” or "sit" when she puts him on the sidewalk. A directive to “come” may prevent a child from being hit by a sneaker wave at the beach. As adoptive parents, one of the first things we noticed was that our children struggled with following basic commands; we knew they comprehended, but their repeated refusals to obey, beyond that of “normal” developmentally appropriate independent-seeking behavior, stymied us. And when “normal” methods of discipline often failed to teach them, our frustration and concern for their safety mounted.

Success in anything comes with practice. And when a child’s brain is already wired to feel that he must be in control, it may take extra practice to be able to follow the parent’s commands. If practice is only reserved for the moment of crisis, success is chancy at best. The time to rehearse is at home, when the stakes are low.


Choose a time when you and the child are relaxed and his basic needs have been satisfied (he’s not tired, hungry.) Go into another room and call the child. “Andrew, come here!” If he comes immediately (3 seconds is a good gauge if he’s close), ask him to reply with, “Yes, Mama?” and pop one small treat into his mouth: Nerds, mini M&Ms or chocolate chips, raisins, tiny chunks of fruit, special sweetened cereals, etc...

If he doesn’t come immediately, pop the treat into your own mouth and empathize with him, “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry you weren’t quick and snappy. Want to try again?” Repeat the scenario several times, with a treat whenever he comes immediately and says, “Yes, Mama.” Have fun with it. Then, at random times throughout the day, call the child again. A “quick and snappy” response with “Yes, Mama,” receives a small reward.

Over time, the rewards become more random. Instead, you may scoop him up into a hug or swing him around the room or take the time to do a fingerplay. “It’s so good you came quick and snappy because now we have time to play ‘This Little Piggie Went to Market.’” As creatures of habit, people are likely to respond in ways that are most familiar. Over time, the child establishes a pattern of responding immediately to the parent’s call, circumventing the brain wiring previously established for control.

-A4everFamily in consultation with Kali Miller, PhD
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