Author: Rosemary McQuade

Short Sentences

 Josh is a seven year old second grader for whom my neighbor babysits for  five days per

week at her home. Josh is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It seems that

each day Josh leaves her house, it is an absolute mess. If he has decided not to play with his toys

and leave them all over the house as he usually does, he will make a mess of miscellaneous items

around the house not belonging to him. He will often go into tupper ware cabinets and leave

them all over the kitchen floor. He will take  newspapers apart, page by page and leave them on

the table spread throughout the house. Susan, my neighbor, finds herself continually discussing

the importance of cleaning up his mess with him. She reports finding herself becoming frustrated

as a result of these lengthy attempts at making him understand why he must clean up after

himself. She explains to him that it is not nice to leave someone’s house a mess. She continues

telling him that since he is the one making the mess, he too is responsible for its clean-up.

However, at six o’clock, upon his mother’s arrival, he runs out of the house, leaving his mess

behind for Susan to clean. Susan came to me asking for  help.

 I started to come over sporadically while Josh was there. The first thing that I realized

was when Susan started going on her tirade about the importance of cleanliness, Josh was turned

off right away. It was as if it was too much information for Josh to process. Instead of

understanding and beginning his clean-up, he would begin jumping around, singing, shouting etc.

He had decided to completely tune her out. As a result, I informed Susan of the short sentence

technique. We decided to no longer attempt to enlighten Josh with the importance of order and

instead, we chose to simply say “clean up time!” at five o’clock. At this time, it was no longer an

option for Josh to continue playing. He was not allowed to take out any other items after five

o’clock.  After five o’clock we simply sat and watched, periodically, making short clean-up

statements. I was somewhat unsure of whether or not this technique would work with Josh,

considering his history of an inability to follow instruction.

 However, I was shocked at how well this rather simple technique helped. Josh no longer

tuned Susan out. He would simply begin putting everything away. It helped that we first

explained to him that after a certain time, we would no longer play. We explained that we would

simply announce that it was time to clean up and therefore, there would be no more time to play.

We discussed the need for everything to be in order in time for Josh to go home with his mother.

For a week, I observed and engaged in the “short sentence” technique. It was obvious that Josh

preferred it over Susan’s long-winded explanations. It seemed that Susan was not the only one

getting frustrated by these explanations. In fact, Josh was getting frustrated too and his lack of

responsiveness seemed to be a sort of coping mechanism. In using a simple short sentence, Josh

responded immediately. He no longer reacted inappropriately. He simply began to clean up from

day one of the intervention.

 In conclusion, I was impressed by the effectiveness of such a simplistic technique. One

would think that this technique may only be effective if used with “normal” kids as it is quite

uncomplicated. However, being that Josh is quite involved behaviorally and it worked despite his

disorder, one can conclude that before technical or more involved interventions are used, the

most simple of interventions should be employed.  This behavior, as reported by Susan, no

longer occurs and Susan is still using this technique almost one month after its initial


Thanks Rosemary!