It’s Not All Mary Poppins

On Asking Questions

Asking questions of your toddler is a delicate art. There are times when it’s a good thing: “Would you like your red shirt, or your blue one?” “Shall we go to the library today, or should we invite Suzie over to play?” Giving your child some control over a largely arbitrary world is a good thing. Teaching him to make simple decisions — and to stick to them! — is also good. (“No, you decided to go to the library today. We can invite Suzie over another day.”) All good.

There are, however, some questions you shouldn’t ask: “Do you want to put your boots on?” when it’s twenty below. That’s not optional. Why present it as if it is?

The worst manifestation of this pattern: You have something you want them to do, but you present it as a question. “Do you want to come with mommy to the store? No? Well, you can’t stay here by yourself!!”

If “no” wasn’t an option, then why ask?

The latter two are foolish and self-defeating. If your child is two, the answer to almost any question is sure to be a negative. Having presented the opportunity to say no, you’re now stuck with it. Instead of just getting the boots on, or heading to the store, you now have to negotiate (good luck with that) or override the child’s stated preferences. Which you just asked for, remember? Who wouldn’t be indignant?

Those habitual, reflexive questions! A bad parental habit, and we need to get out of it!

It’s a habit based in good intentions, of course. Issuing orders seems so arbitrary. Rude. Dictatorial, even.

But really, if you want to see ‘dictatorial’ in action, just let your two-year-old have free rein with the day’s plans and activities. Not a good thing.

It is okay to issue orders and directives. More than that, it’s required. You are the parent. That is part of the job. Far too many parents out there feel apologetic for being the boss. Well, it’s either you or the two-year-old.

Of course, you do it respectfully. Which is where many parents stumble, assuming that ‘respect’ looks the same when applied to toddlers as to adults. It doesn’t.

“I wouldn’t like to be told what to wear, how to play, to have every movement monitored and directed.” True. But then, you’re not likely to choose to wear your swimsuit outdoors in sub-zero temperatures, try to shove raisins up the dog’s nose, or bite people who disagree with you. (Tempting though that latter may be, some days…)

For peace in the home, eradicate habitual “Would you like” and “Do you want to” from your vocabulary. Say them when you mean them, sure. Say them when you really do want to give your child a choice. But for heaven’s sakes don’t say them when “no” isn’t an option.

Instead, substitute the cheerful directive. “Let’s get those mittens on you!” “Time for your bath!” “Let’s get ready to go to the store!” “Up in the highchair, little man!”

You will spare yourself a world of conflict, side-step a mountain of power struggles. Peace in the home is within your grasp. Really.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | parenting, power struggle | 10 Comments