Another installment in my parenting philosophy series...
I sincerely believe in just saying what I mean, rather than dropping hints or expecting people to pick up subtext or (gasp!) guess what I'm thinking. I wrote some time ago about how we have applied that policy to our marriage, but I also apply it to my parenting.
So when my son hops out of the shower, grabs his towel, and bolts up the hall (with the towel swinging in the air, and droplets of water flying every-which-way) I say "please get dry in the bathroom before you run up the hall" rather than "hey, you're getting everything wet." After all, he's 9, I'm pretty sure he knows he's getting everything wet, (he does it almost every day). What he doesn't know--or doesn't remember--is what would be a better alternative.
When the boys are going to bed, I rarely tell them "just go to sleep now." After all, the average 3 year old isn't really sure how to "go to sleep." But if I tell him to lay still, close his eyes, and breathe softly, he can probably do those things. We may end up going through his body parts one by one "make your head be still, make your eyes be closed, make your arms be still, make your bottom stay down on the bed..." and so on, but he can do those things, and they feel much more doable than "go to sleep." Sometimes my sons tell me that they can't fall asleep, or that they won't. I smile and tell them that I don't care if they go to sleep, they are welcome to stay awake all night long if they want...so long as they stay in their beds and lay still and keep quiet. To date none of them has ever managed to pull an all-nighter.☺
That is one side of saying what I mean, and it is a great help in getting kids to know what you want and to do what you ask. The other side of 'saying what you mean' is a little more serious.
If my son is acting up at the store and I tell him that "one more time" will result in marching out the door and going straight home, well, if he does it one more time we'd better start marching immediately. We have left playdates and other fun things because of situations like that. If I'm not willing to leave (if I have to finish my shopping, or I want to keep chatting with my friends) then I had better not deliver that kind of ultimatum. If I threaten to ground him for a month, or throw away all his legos, well, I'd better be willing to follow through. And not just follow through partway, but really follow through. Kids know if you are bluffing, and although they will call your bluff, they would rather be able to just trust you.
On the up side, if I promise that this weekend we can make popcorn and watch a movie, I'd better have a movie and make popcorn. There is no excuse for lying to your kids. Ever. On the rare occasion that something is beyond my control (someone gets sick and we're unable to go to ____) then explain it all truthfully as soon as you know that you won't be able to do what you promised. If you're not sure whether you'll be able to follow through, then don't make the promise. (Sometimes I say "I'm trying to work it out so that we can ___" but I don't promise unless I know I can follow through.) Kids need to be able to trust their parents. Always.