Thinking out loud, ok?

I read a funny piece about parenting classes the other day, and among all the funny (and obvious) tips in the article was the idea that you should never end a request to your child with "OK." The logic was that you were asking for your child's permission or if what you were telling them to do was OK with them, and that made your request ignorable.

That just made me laugh, because to me, ending a request with "OK?" (which I do often) means "Did you hear and understand what I just told you/asked you to do? Give me verbal confirmation that you received my message." It is not in any way, shape, or form asking permission of my kids to ask them to do something. How could two letters mean something so radically different to me and to the parenting expert quoted in the article? It had honestly never even occurred to me that "OK?" could mean anything other that what it means when I use it.

This reminds me a lot, actually, of the phrase "I'm sorry," which seems to mean one thing to men and another to woman. If a female friend told me she couldn't find her keys and was late to a meeting, and I said, "I'm sorry," she'd thank me for my sympathy. If a male friend told me he couldn't find his keys and was late to a meeting, and I said, "I'm sorry," he'd tell me it wasn't my fault his keys were lost. To women it's an expression of sympathy, whereas to men it's an apology.

I started wondering if maybe a lot of these ironclad rules of parenting are just style differences.

I mean, does it really matter the phraseology or tone of voice you use to ask your kids to do something if THEY know you expect them to do it? Yes, we've all seen the whiny suck-up parents who seem to be wheedling more than asking their children to do something and whose children don't fulfill the request. But isn't that more about lack of follow-through than tone of voice? They could be barking orders like a drill sergeant but if they didn't follow through to make sure the request was fulfilled that wouldn't be any more directive or useful than a wheedle. Conversely, haven't we seen parents who seem to say barely anything and their children do it cheerfully? It's because the kids know what to expect and know to fulfill the request.

It's not the words, it's the expectations you set and the follow-through.

I am absolutely not a perfect parent, and my children certainly do not comply with every request I make of them. In fact, it seems that they are less likely to comply when I'm at my worst, when I need them to just do it and not try to change the terms. But that makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? When I'm at my worst they know I have no follow-through. I could whisper or roar like a lion, but my tone doesn't change the fact that I don't have my normal resources to calmly and kindly make sure they do whatever I need them to do. This may also be why things seem to turn out better when I'm low on resources if I enlist their help instead of making requests. And as they've gotten older, part of enlisting their help is about truly delegating and giving them autonomy in how they get the things done that I need them to do.

What if I'm getting better at this as they get older? What if we're all getting better at this as our kids get older? What if they'll turn out just fine whether we say "OK?" or not? What if "being effective" is more about learning each other than it is about doing things the right way?

Is there something you do that works just fine for you that you've been told is the wrong way to do things?

61 thoughts on “Thinking out loud, ok?”

  1. My 4-year-old ends nearly every sentence with “ok?” That’s how much my husband uses it with her, and I use it less, but still quite a bit. I think in our case it is sometimes “checking” with her, but she doesn’t realise it yet so she doesn’t use the opportunity to argue.And of course we do things “wrong” because in parenting, usually both ways are wrong. We coslept until quite recently, and didn’t sleep train, which was certainly considered “wrong” by a large segment of our peer group. I can’t think of anything we do in which all experts disagree with us, but then again, I can’t think of anything that all parenting experts agree on at all.

  2. I find that, for me, ending a request with “ok” is one of a set of things that I think of as “verbal softeners” — phrases that we use in polite conversation with other adults that soften requests that we’re making of them.Another one, and a classic pitfall for parents, is “do you want to…” E.g., “The water’s boiling, so do you want to put the pasta in the pot now?” instead of “Please put the pasta in the pot.” Between adults, the former (to my Midwestern ears) sounds polite while the latter sounds abrupt.
    To a four-year-old, though, “no” is a perfectly acceptable and logical answer to the former (setting aside the whole small-child-boiling-water issue).
    So for me, a large part of learning how to phrase things so that my 4yo will be clear on what I’m asking him to do has been to train myself OUT of those verbal softeners and state things more clearly and precisely. Or maybe a better way to say that is: to tell myself that it’s okay to phrase things to him in a way that, to another adult, might sound rude or abrupt. Of course, I’m nowhere near 100% consistent about it, and I haven’t noticed a correlation between how I phrase a request and his likeliness to comply.

  3. Bribery. You’re not supposed to do it, but man it worked with my oldest. I’m actually consciously trying to bribe my 2-year-old more to avoid unnecessary fights. If you do A, I’ll give you B. It gives her a little power, and sometimes gets the job done without a melt-down.Also, I give in to whining from time to time. If I say X and the kid complains and says, but I really want Y, and it makes no difference to me, I give in. Adults negotiate; it seems natural for kids to do the same.

  4. i do the “okay” thing all the time. i then usually follow it up by saying to my 7 year old, “i know you think i’m asking you something, but really i’m just saying DO IT nicely.” then she says “okay.” my pediatrician has given me one great piece of wisdom which is “find their currency.” and the other piece comes from the lovely jo of supernanny which says “you cannot control another person, but you can control the environment.” love that. as far as things i’m not supposed to do – is letting our 4 year old son sleep with us every night even though we hate it, bad? ha.

  5. i’m pretty much an ellyn satter devotee, but i’ll ‘force’ a taste on my 5yo for something he’s tried successfully before. he doesn’t have to swallow, he doesn’t have to like it, he doesn’t have to eat it all, but dang it, i know you usually like noodles and you’re gonna put a noodle in your mouth! sigh. likely wrong. (and upsets my bf who had a stepmother who did a lot of forcing.)but sometimes he will eat all of whatever it is. sometimes he doesn’t. the ‘try’ is what’s important to me.

  6. Semantics… Parenthood has come with a whole slew of new definitions of words. Like when I say my kids need to listen to me I actually mean they need to obey me. I just cannot bring myself to out right ask them to obey me. It would sound rude. Also they interrupt me, which I find rude, and I claim they ignore me (when I interrupt them). I have absolutely no solutions to offer, just that things seem to be working smoother when there is no rush.

  7. Someone told me this “ok” rule years ago, and while I thought it was BS, it actually did seem to help me; my mind frame, perhaps, more than the listener’s. If I am giving what is, essentially, a command, I try very hard not to end it with ok. This is really more of a small trick than a mode of parenting, imo – works for other situations as well. If you are issuing orders, issue them in the expectation they WILL be followed.What drives me nuts, and IS a parenting issue, is the constant announcement of threats (or consequences, whatever) with no follow through. Okay, especially the constant “You’re gonna get a spanking” on the playground thing. – I’m not a huge fan of spanking, but for heaven’s sake, get done with it if that’s what you’re gonna do. And if you’re not, you’re just teaching your kids you have no real authority. I think more than anything, making rules clear, making consequences clear (and reasonable), keeping in mind it is about teaching and not punishment, and following through. You only have to do that X number of times and they will get the message. Issue idle threats and don’t follow through and it will take you about an infinate number of time.

  8. But if everyone around you uses verbal softeners, then are they ACTUALLY confusing to kids? I mean, a kid raised in Vietnam would speak Vietnamese with no problems, while a kid raised someplace else would be awfully confused by hearing Vietnamese. If you speak the same way to your kids all the time, then they learn the way you speak and what all the words and inflections mean.

  9. I don’t think any of the men I know would interpret ‘I’m sorry’ as an apology and therefore say ‘it wasn’t you fault’ in the example you gave, Moxie. Perhaps its cultural and not necessarily a difference between Men and Women.The follow through argument would certainly explain why being on the phone brings out the worse in my kids. Or when there are guests around and you are absorbed in conversation. They practically bounce off the walls then.
    I know I shouldn’t admit to being ‘silly’ to the kids, and I do. ‘Mummy was silly, when she crossed the road without looking’ ,that kind of thing. I don’t want my kids to think I’m perfect and infallible. I’ m probably wrong but I’d rather they know we all make mistakes, including mummy.

  10. I don’t think I say “OK” to my children but I do ask my 2 year old to ackowledge my request. I usually say “Can you say ‘Yes Mam?'”. Like you pointed out, I need some acknowledgment that he heard/understood what I was saying and I’m trying to throw in some manners training… I very much agree with you though that it’s the follow-through rather than the words or tones. Just last week, my 2 year-old told me “no” when I asked him to clean up his cars. My response was “you need to put your cars in the basket. If Mommy has to do it, they go in the closet and you can’t play with them until tomorow (note, this was pre-bedtime clean up so it wasn’t like he was being denied for some large amount of time…)” Well, he didn’t clean up so I had to follow-though. I find that (the follow-through) one of the toughest parts of parenting. It was especially hard when he went to bed and then cried “Mommy, I want clean now, Mommy, I want clean!”. The good part of that was he’s not hesitated since when it’s time to put his cars back in their basket when he’s finished playing. His daycare teacher even commented that he was being super helpful with clean up time there…As far as things I’m not supposed to do. My biggest guilt right now is that I use the TV as a babysitter when I’m trying to get supper on the table. I feel like I should be engaging my children during that time as we’ve all just arrived home for the day but really I just want them to be occupied long enough for me to get supper ready so that we can sit together and eat…

  11. “But if everyone around you uses verbal softeners, then are they ACTUALLY confusing to kids?” See, that’s why I’m pretty sure that the verbal softeners are OK (ha!) or at the very least, aren’t going to harm your child irreparably. Because they’re part of the culture.But it still is useful to me, now and then, to think about the actual words that I’m using with my 4yo, and whether what I’m saying is actually what I mean. And also, I’d guess that there’s a big difference between a highly verbally acute 4yo and, say, a 2yo in terms of how much softeners you can get away with.

  12. Paola, I think you are right about letting them know we all make mistakes. I’m a big believer in introducing my kids to reality instead of trying to create a false standard for them. The same goes for telling them they’re perfect all the time. My husband’s parents always told him what a good kid he was (and he was), but now when our kids misbehave, I have to hear a lot about how he was never out of line. Obviously untrue, and very unhelpful in the moment.

  13. I learned the “OK?” thing when my daughter was small and we replaced it with “got it?” although my husband still uses “OK” a lot with both kids. Honestly, I have one kid who actually cares what I think and so will do what I ask him to most of the time and one who is an attorney at law and will argue about EVERYTHING, and it doesn’t matter how I say it.

  14. I caused a whole situation once because someone phrased a request as a question, and I answered no. I was 7 or 8. It was valentine’s day and the end of a Brownie meeting. One of the leaders asked me to help clean up (instead of saying “Please help clean up” as a statement) But I said no, because I was busy looking through my valentines from school. I really hadn’t realized that it wasn’t a question. But it caused a major discussion between my mom and the other mom.So, I think it’s something that you really have to be careful with when speaking with other people’s kids. Your own children are probably pretty familiar with how you use language by now.

  15. I try to be clear with kids on my expectations and when I am with my Girl Scouts, I get myself into these situations because they all have different meanings to phrases.I often say “Capice!” to my kids to make sure they got the instructions. I sometimes get “yeh yeah” back from them. I often say “Excuse me?” to my kids and I get the evil eye from adults. Eh, screw them.
    I had a run in at the airport about 5 years ago where a woman at the security line rudely asked me if I had to speak *that* loudly to my children. I was upset at the time and just said “yes!”. In truth, I did need to speak loudly. We were going on an airplane, with 2 small children and managing security for adults is bad enough. Now add 2 kids and an overly loud situation, yeah, I’m going to be loud for them to pay attention to me. Once I calmed down about this, I realized that I really do have my own choices! 🙂

  16. My DH used to phrase requests as questions a lot. And he received “no” as a response from our kids a lot. I gently pointed out that if “no” isn’t an acceptable response, it’s not fair to pose it as a question. It was just his non-confrontational way, I suppose.My 6-y.o is very aware of when things are demanded of him rather than requested. He gets very upset and says he is being “commanded” to do something. I don’t want to command my kids to do things. When I’m stressed or we’re late and they’re not listening, I think it all goes to pieces.
    I think what works fine for us but what other parents would probably consider bad is our positive parenting techniques. We’ve never used time outs with our kids or any other punishment tactics. We use natural consequences where appropriate (you took a long time to come upstairs; now we don’t have time for a story). We do a lot of negotiating, which as a PP wrote, is something adults use with each other every day.
    I have no problem negotiating most things with my kids. Usually some aspect of things can be negotiated, whether it’s the timing, the order, etc. For those few things that can’t be negotiated, like going to school, we explain why it can’t be negotiated.

  17. I use OK in the same way, but lately when I want an acknowledgement, I try to say “Got it?” instead. My kids pick up on any hint that you might be asking a question instead of telling them something, so “Got it” seems to serve the purpose better than “OK.”

  18. I think I became aware of OK might be a problem from a completely different POV. My grandfather was complaining about waiters (I think there are comics who riff on this too) saying “you guys” and ending every sentence with “OK?”It does seem to be a risk that if you say OK?, there is a chance your kid is going to say, no it isn’t. But then again, they may not be understanding you and it would be better to clarify earlier than later, right? The problem with a command is figuring out if they heard what you were trying to say.
    I always wonder if communicating is especially tough in English or if it would be just as hard in any language.

  19. I haven’t read the comments yet, but I. Love. This. and your second-to-last paragraph, beginning with “What if…” is brilliant and beautiful.

  20. “I don’t think any of the men I know would interpret ‘I’m sorry’ as an apology and therefore say ‘it wasn’t you fault’ in the example you gave, Moxie. Perhaps its cultural and not necessarily a difference between Men and Women.”I know women who will and do say no apology necessary/not your fault in response to a sympathetic I’m sorry.
    Okay at the end of a sentence is a habit for me but I’m also an over explainer/negotiator when it comes to rule enforcement. Perhaps the two are tied somehow? It definitely means do you understand most of the time but should I really need to check for understanding on something I’ve most likely said a hundred times before?

  21. Before I had kids, I witnessed my cousin asking her son (in response to a misbehaviour) if he wanted a time-out. We all made fun of her at the time but now that I have my own daughter that I regularly converse with, I catch myself doing the same thing on occasion, and I realize that what she was doing was offering him a chance to correct his behaviour before being punished. She didn’t say all that to him, but as long as she is consistent in the way she communicates with him he surely understood what she meant.Consistency is key.

  22. I relized my daughter was hearing the “ok” at the end of my requests as permission when she was about 3 so I switched to “got it?” and things improved. Now, at age 5.5 she responds with “yes, ma’am” which I didn’t teach but I love it. It’s funny how little things like that can make a difference, but it’s all about being in tune with your kids. Just like any other relationship.

  23. Like some of the other commenters, I heard/read about the OK “issue” and while I am in your camp (that it was never meant as a way to seek my children’s approval), I’ve tried switching to “Got it?”. What I like about that, is they respond “Got it” back – for example, “after dinner it will be homework time, got it?” and they’ll say “got it, mom” so I feel like they acknowledge that they’ve heard me and understand.

  24. I do think it’s important not to phrase something as a question if it isn’t optional. But I don’t think “Ok?” makes it seem optional – at least not in my verbiage. Like Moxie, we use “okay” as synonymous with “Got it?” I want my 3 y.o. to acknowledge that he’s heard what I said.I also negotiate sometimes – or allow my 3 y.o. to negotiate, even though all the parenting books tell me this is a big no-no. It seems to me, like to the other poster above, that if his counter-proposal is a good idea then refusing to accept it merely because it came from him is not respectful. My pre schooler comes up with great solutions to issues sometimes!
    I don’t know if I’m getting better at it. I definitely got worse for a while. I hope my long view will be like Moxie’s.

  25. I have had to force my almost three year old to take bites of dinner. With my other kids I was hands off about it but he is so stubborn and picky so if even looks slightly different from the last time I prepared it then he won’t take a bite. Since I started this he has actually started taking bites on his own.

  26. We also do a ton of negotiation. The kid can discuss, negotiate, and weigh alternatives reasonably (OK, when he’s not in meltdown mode), so why not treat him like he can? He’s developing his skills, and we respect that – as long as he presents options respectfully.We also do lots of discussion of process and reasons (e.g., you need protein and carbs right no so your blood sugar won’t drop and trigger a migraine). We make clear that we won’t negotiate on issues of health and safety in the moment (you must hold my hand while crossing the street; no candy for breakfast) – but he’s welcome to discuss why these things are hard-and-fast rules, and other ways of ensuring that health and safety needs get met. (OK, we can practice solo street-crossing on small streets, when we have the time and there’s a stop sign.)
    I’m sure others see all this and think we’re not exercising sufficient authority over our child – but all this works for us, for our particular kid and family.
    Now I just need to find a way to not lose it entirely at times when he bypasses negotiation for whining. I have to remember that just because both parent and child are capable of adult-level thought and compassion, it doesn’t mean that either of us will always act on that capability!

  27. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t say “please” to your kids, as in “Please pick up those toys,” because it’s like you’re asking them instead of telling them. Which seems like BS to me. I’m modeling polite behavior. If I insist that he say “please” when he wants milk, shouldn’t I also respect him enough to use nice manners? My kid definitely knows that when I say “Please pick up your toys” I don’t mean it’s optional.

  28. I love these reflections, particularly the part about perhaps we’re getting better as our kids get older (and we get more practice) and that perhaps our kids will be ok even if we don’t follow all the rules.Here’s my current issue though that I would love some reflections about – my 9 year old has turned into a constant negotiator and it’s driving me nuts. He wants to negotiate about everything and even if I say that its not negotiable and why, he will still push and push and push. Any thoughts anyone?

  29. I agree that your kids will figure out what you mean by the way you talk. I do the “okay” thing too, and my children don’t seem to think I’m asking them for permission.I’ve always said, “Is there a polite way to ask?” to remind my kids to use the word please. They understand what I mean. Then one day someone asked my daughter, “what’s the magic word?” and my daughter was confused for a minute and then said, “abracadabra.” I’m sure that lady thought I didn’t teach my kids manners.

  30. I heard the OK thing from a Montessori teacher, and I did find that saying “Do you understand?” rather than “OK?” worked better with my kids.BUT
    Thing the first: My kids are verbal and debaters like you can’t imagine. Everyone commented on it when they were little — parents, pediatricians, teachers. People who spent their days with kids still commented on how my kids were outliers. So for them, the ambiguity in “OK?” which sometimes means, “Unless you want to raise an objection, because I’m open to that” and sometimes means “Got it?” . . . well, they were going to use their powers for evil/Mommy-thwarting and raise objections.
    Point B: When I slipped back into “OK?” occasionally, it was at times when I was distracted. So were my kids listening better and cooperating more because they had no (verbal) choice, or were they more inclined to cooperate because I was parenting more mindfully?

  31. @Blythe, when my 6-y.o. does a similar thing to me, I respond with, “That is my decision. Some things we do every day without fail, and there’s no discussion about it.” If he keeps bringing it up, I repeat “I’m not discussing that with you,” until he stops. I do feel that my ability to be flexible on most things in our lives helps with the few things we are inflexible on (safety, hygiene, etc.).

  32. @Blythe, I used to say, “This is not open for debate. We can talk about it more if you’re interested in the topic, but if you think I will change my mind, you need to understand that I will not, and I don’t want you to be frustrated.” Sometime a kid actually did want to hash thing over some more, and sometimes he was holding out hope that I could be argued into submission. But offering half of what he wanted (discussion) while being clear that the other half (permission) was a no-go worked for us.

  33. At a parenting class I’m taking (I know, but so far it’s really good! 😉 the instructor actually mentioned the “OK?” thing, but her beef with it was that it’s condescending in tone. As background: she advocates for speaking to your kids, and behaving with them, more or less like adults. (Not entirely–it’s not like you give your 2-year-old the kitchen knife and tell her to cut up her own carrot.) After thinking about it, I had to agree, in that I had a hard time imagining asking my husband or a co-worker to do some task and following it up with an “OK?” For the same reason, I suppose she would probably not be a fan of “Got it?”But I don’t think she would say “Saying “OK?” is ruining your kids!” except as a symptom of potentially not treating kids with the respect she thinks they deserve.
    It’s interesting, because I feel like I have always tried to treat my kids much like adults (explaining the reasons for my behaviors and decisions, not talking to them in a cute or mommy voice, etc.) but as I’ve begun the class I’ve seen that I haven’t permitted them as much autonomy as they’re capable of, and I do spend a lot of time verbally “checking on” them–which I think is what “OK?” is basically about, at least in my case. (Did you hear me? You heard me, right? I want some feedback that you heard me.) It’s really hard for me to stop saying it.
    My replacement phrase is “please” because I totally would and do use that with the adults in my life: would you please put that in the trash? etc.
    So IMO, whenever someone says that some simple little behavior is okay or not okay, it’s missing the point. Our discussion should be centered more around how we want to relate to our kids (and there are probably as many different ways of doing this as there are parent-child relationships, but all that matters is that we are giving thought and effort to the topic).

  34. @Catherine – I love that you called out that it’s a softener. When I really think about communication, esp at work with other adults, we always tend to use these words because being direct sounds harsh. I don’t like it, because the men around me don’t do that. So I’m working on it.@wealhtheow – My dad commented on the weirdness of putting “Please” in front of requests to kids – he sees it at the school he tutors in, and sees me do it as well. I think it’s a form of respect, too, and modeling appropriate nice behavior when you ask someone to do something. I like it a lot better than “OK?”
    @L’s comment about talking to kids like adults is something that I try consciously to do – it’s a respect thing for me. I grew up in an Asian culture that was NOT AT ALL about respect for kids and ALL ABOUT respect for elders and I don’t want that situation in our house.
    It’s hard when I’m tired/hungry/late to remember, though 🙁

  35. Like @AmyinMotown I am raising an aspiring legal eagle (who only thinks he is an aspiring firefighter), who has carefully taught me not to say something like, “You need to pee” to him even when it’s obviously true because — how the heck could I know (as previously characterized in the comments on this blog)? Thus, “I need you to try to pee,” or “I need you to sit on the toilet for a minute.” I’ll have to pay attention to how I use OK; I live in the US South where it’s entirely clear that many things that might linguistically appear to be questions are not (and certainly I deploy such tools with my son though I then sometimes ask myself what the heck I was thinking even as the words roll out of my mouth), but I do, for the reasons described, try to be wary in how I use them with my son.More generally, one of the first things I decided as a new mom was that if someone presented me with a solution to a problem I didn’t have, or suggested something (e.g. co-sleeping) was, or would become, a problem that in my experience wasn’t (and might never be), then they were not sharing useful information, and said information should therefore be ignored (not left unacknowledged rudely, just not applied). And really, if there were just one thing about parenting I could say has been a useful discovery for me, it’s this one. OK?

  36. Man! I suppose its child dependent. If your kid hears it as asking for permission then probably you stop phrasing it that way.I’m 7 mo. pregnant and I use sesame street as a crutch. And I’m not apologizing. And you know what else??? I think I LOVE sesame street. Sometimes I need my feet up. And when I look at my 16 month old who is totally in a tv trance… I could feel bad… But instead I think… ok just 10 more minutes… 🙂

  37. The whole “ok” at the end of a sentence/this-is-a-bad-thing/parenting advice is a load of rubbish. Moxie is right; it ain’t the words, it is the intention.I am SO SICK of parenting advice that attempts to micromanage every aspect of parenting, and give parents some sort of “script” that will work, as if this is even possible or reasonable. To me, it is similar to forbidding parents from saying, “Good boy/girl!”, as this is considered to be ineffective, global praise. I get it, I know all of the research behind it, and it is a good thing to bear in mind – but really, what parent doesn’t say, “Good job!” now and then? C,mon, parenting experts. These aren’t the parenting infractions we should be devoting our time to.

  38. I have no idea how often I use OK at the end of a sentence when talking to DS. I think I do it sometimes (as well as saying things like ‘Please stay on the mat until we take your boots off.’ etc.)Definitely agree that follow through is key. Though my style is to always read the situation and adjust accordingly. I usually give 2 warnings (on non safety issues) and on the 3rd time the thing in question goes away. This works well for DS. It’s my way of softening the situation for him (he is not good with abruptness of any kind) as well as giving him a chance to correct the situation.
    I don’t generally phrase things in question format to DS as he’ll almost always answer it with the response I’m not looking for. Being direct, but with a friendly, calm tone usually works the best, though not always.
    Since DS has been quite small I’ve always narrated what we are going to do before we do it. He doesn’t transition well, and it helps things go much more smoothly in general. I have to laugh now as DS uses this tool as a way to negotiate what he wants. He’ll say ‘ After we get home from daycare, first we’ll have milk à mama, 2nd we’ll read a book, 3rd do some finger painting, and 4th have some dinner’. Always makes me laugh, even when I have to break the news that we can read a book OR finger paint before dinner, but not both.
    The thing I do ‘wrong’ is still breast feeding at 3.5. I’m the last person that thought we’d still be BF, but it’s where we are for XYZ reasons. We don’t generally BF in public anymore, because I am starting to slowly wean. But when it does come up or he asks for ‘milk à mama’ in public, I can feel the quizzical or judgemental stares.

  39. I’m wary of absolutist parenting advice in general. And I agree wholeheartedly that follow-through and intention are the key, not the syntax.Last night I actually followed through for the first time with my constant threat of no bedtime story. I got whining and forced tears and a whole lot of “you’re MEAN, Mommy,” but I was sure of myself, and it passed. My four-year-old KNOWS, sometimes better than I initially do myself, how serious I am about something. If I’m sure that I need him to do (or not do) something, and I’m certain that is a question of safety/respect/sanity, he usually complies, and if not, I’m better able to hold the line on the consequences. But if there’s any ambivalence on my part, or if I’m under stress, it all goes to pieces.
    The parenting “perfect storm” for me is when I’m parenting in front of my own parents. They were far more in the authoritarian camp than I am (though without being, y’know, despots — probably not even outliers for their generation). Despite myself I feel like I need to prove something and be more “in control” as a parent. This can lead to me being way more strict that I normally would, parenting out of fear of failure rather than compassion and understanding, and man… I’ve had more than one faceplant as a result. (Bear in mind that my parents live far away, so I don’t get too much practice managing this.)
    I guess the bottom line is if I’m pretty sure that I’m showing respect for my child, expecting and modeling respect for others, and showing respect for *myself* (i.e. not accepting unnecessary BS or being a martyr in the interest of maintaining peace), I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with negotiating, backtracking, offering detailed explanations, repeating myself, changing my mind upon reflection, occasionally complaining, looking momentarily unsure of myself, or adding semantically meaningless yet polite words to my requests, OK?
    (All this reminds me of some wisdom I think originated with hedra and which has comforted me many a time: as a parent, you’re not aiming for perfect. Aim instead for a solid B.)

  40. Although “repeating myself” does sometimes fall into the category of “unnecessary BS” that I’m not going to stand for.What makes me laugh, however, is that at the moment the best way to *finally* get a response is to tell my son how I feel about it, like this morning:
    Me: “Do you want toast for breakfast?”
    Him: Silence.
    Me, insisting: “Do you want toast for breakfast?”
    Him: Silence.
    Me: “Toast, yes or no?”
    Him: More silence. (He’s intently studying something on the table, you see)
    Me: “TOAST YES OR NO?”
    Then I stop, take a deep breath, and say calmly, “Y’know, I get very frustrated when I have to ask you the same thing over and…”
    Him, immediately: “Yes, toast please, Mommy.”
    This is far from the first time that mentioning him how I feel makes him snap out of it. Sometimes I forget that, as a four-year-old, he needs to be reminded how his action/non-action/response/non-response will make someone else feel. I think sometimes we expect automatic compassion or intuition and a lot of that is learned, not innate… and how’s he going to learn if I don’t verbalize it?

  41. @L. (and others) I’m on board with talking to and treating my kids like adults, in the sense that those things are just another way of saying, “Treating them with the respect and dignity due to all human beings.” OTOH, kids are not adults, and talking to them the same way, especially little kids, doesn’t quite make sense. I would absolutely say “OK?” to a husband or co-worker if they weirdly pretended not to hear what I said and refused to respond to it, ’cause that’s super rude and passive aggressive.I think the suggestions about how to talk to your kids, even ones that involve specific phrasing, can be great tools. I think they sometimes read like scripts, but I’m not sure that’s the intention of the parenting advice folks.
    @the milliner – did you ever read that piece on extended breastfeeding and Mongolia? It’s considered the best thing to do in the entire universe for your kid – and the kids that are breastfed until 6 are referred to as “wrestlers” because that’s their highest compliment (that is, growing up to become a wrestler is like being a super star).

  42. @the Milliner, oh, yeah, I forgot about that one…DD is still nursing with no end in sight and she’ll be 3 in a couple of months. Her brother self-weaned definitively at 2 and I suppose I thought she would as well. But here we are. We don’t nurse in public and haven’t in a long time. I’m ok with her nursing as long as she wants to, but I do get raised eyebrows when she says to me, “Mama, I want to nurse!” I guess I should have taught her a code word, dang it.

  43. The two things that I did/do “wrong”- nursing past 2. I started getting comments from family/friends after 18 months. My daughter weaned recently at 2 years, 4 months with a bit of encouragement from me. Though I doubted myself as she was nursing from 18 months to 2 and 1/3, in retrospect I have no regrets. It was a special time, and she needed that nurturing, so how could it be wrong?The current thing that I’m doing “wrong” is holding her until she falls asleep. Part of how we weaned was me holding her, and that touch replacing nursing. I haven’t figured out how to let that go, but I’ve decided that I’m just going to roll with it until it no longer works. She’s still in a crib, and I think when she’s in a bed and I can sit next to her, it will perhaps be easier. I also have to admit that I really enjoy that time with her right now because those close snuggles are such a beautiful thing. And yes, I know, she should be falling asleep on her own without me there, but after many attempts at this, I am starting to realize that right or wrong, this is just how things work right now, and I think I’m okay with that (most of the time).

  44. Just to make my life easier, I try to shorten things as much as possible. For example, after bath it’s “Cats and clothes.” instead of “Please feed the cats and put your dirty clothes in the hamper.”The thing we do wrong a lot is being inconsistent with discipline…we need to work on that one big time.

  45. I’ve found the principles in “How to talk so kids will listen…” really helpful. But I have to admit that I am not super into modifying how I speak or relate to my kids unless there is a problem. (I think baby talk to babies etc. is pretty primate-hard-wired.)That said it does depends on your child. I have an older son who is remarkably flexible and good natured in a lot of ways. So my big parenting confession is that I am not always consistent with him. I bend the rules, explain why, and then re-establish them, and explain why. I’m aware that with a lot of kids this would be a total recipe for disaster (and wondering if my 2nd will be one of them). But my kid seems to thrive on the occasional rule holiday.

  46. @Shandra I do the same with my son — flexible rules. I mean, I’ll say, “As a special treat we will XYZ [even though that isn’t something we usually do]” (last night it was cuddle in bed while watching Spongebob, oh the horror). Or I will say, “Because X, we will [not] Y,” where Y is not (inherently) a reward, punishment, or logical consequence, but just a decision I have made. And it does work both ways (“Because I have a splitting headache I need you to entertain yourself in your bedroom” as well as “Because we’re both feeling really tired and grumpy we will have a bowl of ice cream as a special treat.”). And, yeah — it mostly seems to work. Which goes back to my point about not making problems out of things that are not. I mean, sure, kids need consistency (heck, we all do), but that doesn’t mean that anything other than 100% consistency is imperfect.And here’s hoping your second is just as adaptive and flexible as your (and my) first!

  47. @Erin, I think we’re pretty much on the same page. It’s hard to explain without going on and on, but I don’t think my perspective, or the class instructor’s, is that one should speaks with children exactly as little adults. But her thinking has more to do with giving them the respect and adult treatment to the extent that they’re ready for it.When I say “OK?” it’s like a verbal tic, it doesn’t only happen after the kid’s ignored me. So it’s that automatic kind of talk that I’m trying to rid myself of. If I’m being ignored, I think it’s a lot more justified, just as you noted it would be for coworkers!
    I never answered Moxie’s question. Generally speaking I think I’m more strict with my kids than some other parents I know, but then again now I’m experimenting with a really hands-off attitude that others wouldn’t approve of. Can’t win as a parent, right? Or, hopefully, we can turn it around and say “different strokes for different folks”!

  48. I hear you on the Ok? thing. But all the parenting books today seem to discourage firm parenting. I was on a plane and the kid across the aisle was kicking the seat in front of him… a lot. The guy in the seat was clearly pissed and asked the lady to have her kid stop. She said “Now Robbie… do you think you are making a good decision here? Do you think that is nice?” Hell no it is not nice… how bout STOP … now.

  49. @shoshana- I actually thought ” how sweet that she still gets to hold her daughter to sleep”. If it works and you aren’t sitting there frustrated or resentful the whole time, who cares? I’ve had most ‘bad habits’ work themselves out with little to no trauma in my 3.5 yrs as a mom. Even giving up the pacifier (he only used it at night and for naps from 6 months on, but he was very attached). It took til he was 3 years and 4 months but it happened organically and with few tears.My ‘thing’ is that both my kids sleep with me… and my husband sleeps in the guest room. We are both fine with it. He snores, anyway.
    As for the “ok” thing… I think it all depends on tone of voice. I cant stand when people say it like “C’Mon, honey, we have to get in the car now, okaaaaay?” in that whiny voice. Blech.

  50. I treat them as adults in that I use “please” and “thank you” consistently. As a result, DD1 (5) says them both without prompting, and DD2 says “tank too” about 50% of the time (18 mo.) I do change my mind if my daughter comes up with a better plan or suggestion, and I offer them appropriate choices. As with many answers previous, DD1 knows, and DD2 is learning that when Mama is done, they better comply. I do flex the rules on occasion with DD1 (like the previous post), but she can reason well beyond her age. In general, negotiation/reasoning/explanation (whatever you call it) makes for more interactive (time-consuming)parenting, but my hope is that reward will be two young women with excellent cognitive thinking skills, self-confidence, and respect for others.

  51. Amen to this @L. – “So IMO, whenever someone says that some simple little behavior is okay or not okay, it’s missing the point. Our discussion should be centered more around how we want to relate to our kids.” So true.Here’s our ever-growing list of parenting choices we’ve made that others have claimed is The Wrong Way: ingesting caffeine while pregnant, working outside the home and using daycare, not working outside the home, bottle feeding, formula feeding, co-sleeping, flying on an airplane with an infant, starting potty learning at age 1, waiting to introduce solid foods until 9-10 months when the kids suddenly started eating off our plates, teaching a 3-year-old how to read, letting our then-3-year-old son play on the monkeybars, letting our kids be around water without a lifejacket, etc etc. I guess everyone is entitled to their incorrect opinions, especially me!

  52. What *don’t* we do that isn’t the “wrong” way to do things? I think one of the biggest is that our daugther at 16 months still goes to bed when we do – anytime between 10 and 11 p.m., and occasionally later if she’s being particularly stubborn (also, occasionally earlier if we’ve had an exciting day). My husband is usually asleep before she is.Partly, we do this because I work from home and need her to sleep late so I can work early in the morning (not that she sleeps through the night or anything, but no matter how many times she wakes up, at least she isn’t up for the day until around 9). That’s what I tell people who look at me funny (or think I’m crazy lucky to have a toddler who sleeps until 9 – I’ll trade you one late morning for one night of getting to go to bed when I’m actually tired). But a lot of it is that she’s never been able to stay asleep for more than an hour or so without us. I even still hold her for the last part of her nap (working on that one, but in baby steps).
    And I’ve been having to remind myself that “it’s not the words” a lot lately. Even so, we do try to avoid using the word “no” (probably wrongly) too much. I just don’t want to hear a constant stream of “no” in a few months, so we aim for telling her what we want her to do, or specifically what action we need her to take (in urgent situations, I’ll use “stop” because I figure that’s what I actually want her to do). Many, many people think this is silly, including my mother, who’s usually very supportive. But even though we’re certainly not 100 percent with it, it does help me be mindful of what I’m saying to her vs. what she might actually understand/be capable of doing.

  53. @Ck: Thanks for the kind words. I am slowly learning that there’s no “right” way, it’s what works and feels right at the time, as opposed to what everyone else/ books say. It sounds like you’ve had the same experience.

  54. @parisienne: “I’m wary of absolutist parenting advice in general. And I agree wholeheartedly that follow-through and intention are the key, not the syntax.” YES!! Kids respond differently to different approaches… we all know there’s no real right or wrong approach, how could there be with so many variables in each family situation?I used to use “Okay?” but like others my kid (now 4.5, and I have a 2-yo too) caught on that sometimes the answer is “no”. When I’m not asking permission, I no longer use “okay”, because no, it’s not open to discussion. “It’s time to put on your coat” works much better for us than “Please put on your coat, okay?”. If I need acknowledgement, I use “Do you understand?” or sometimes I’ll ask that he repeats what I said so I know he heard me.
    The softener description is interesting, I know I do that a lot at work and I do think males are different than females and probably get more respect as an authority as a result. Something to think about, ie, “I need that report by 5” versus “I’d like that report by 5, okay?”… hmm.
    I find I’m a stricter parent than alot of my peers/friends… but it does depend on how tired I am on a given day. So one thing I do ‘wrong’ is I’m not always consistent. If I have the energy, No means No. If I was up late or having a crap week, No might mean Please don’t ask again, or Maybe, or…
    I also bribe sometimes. If you do this thing I know you don’t really want to do, you will get X as a reward. Wait another 10 minutes while Mommy tries on these jeans, and we’ll go for ice cream later. Ehh… I do a lot of things “wrong”, but I try to keep the end goal in mind: respectful, caring, loving, determined, smart kids who will be adults one day.

  55. I’ve heard the “don’t say OK” thing, but I still use it a lot. Mostly the way you use it. I even have some sympathy for wheedling because I think it comes from a parent who has tried multiple other tones or styles of request, and so far none of them have worked.

  56. Another point of view in the spirit of ‘it’s the intention not the syntax’ – we don’t require our four year old to say please and thank you at home but stress the importance of being considerate and communicating this. This arose from seeing some of her friends roughly demanding things then tacking on a ‘please’, and this counting for politeness with their parents.We’ve talked about all the ways you can show that you are considerate, including using please and thank you, but have said directly that she doesn’t have to always use those words (even though we all often do), and that it’s about showing the feeling that counts. Big topics for a little person but she understands and it has opened up lots of interesting discussions initiated by her about how people interact and how it’s sometimes ok to do one thing in your family and another socially, or how sometimes you have to use please and thank you as other people expect it (‘but if you aren’t feeling thank you, mummy?’). The downside of this is that she can be seen as slightly rude by adults who are just expecting politeness terms rather than a smile or eye contact or use of the words ‘could’ or ‘may’.

  57. I’m right there with y’all regarding inconsistency, but doing our best! Things we do wrong… oy. Everything? Just kidding. Here goes: child-led eating, sleeping, nursing, playing, etc.; cosleeping/hubbie on couch; sidecarred crib; nursing to sleep; no CIO; continuing to nurse even though he’s apparently “old enough to be weaned, I mean really, are you going to nurse him until he’s 10?!”; still pumping and sending my breastmilk to daycare; spread-out vaccinations, no Hep-B yet. About the child-led thing, we obviously don’t let him do things that are dangerous but we don’t hover either. We’ve learned over and over in our 15 months as parents that if we don’t figure out/do what he needs then we pay for it later 🙂

  58. “Wrong?” Nursed until 38 months. Co-slept until he was 5 (I think?), DH in his own bed for most of it. Toilet trained late. Taught him to read young (or he learned, anyway). Didn’t teach him to ride a bike young. Let him stay inside and read when it’s sunny out. Let him go outside and play when it’s snowing/raining/cold. Tried spanking a couple of times (it didn’t work, so much for that). Time-outs and time-ins. Require him to eat (some) dinner before getting dessert.We don’t say “OK,” but I do a lot of very short commands (coat, dishes, milk, Lego, bed, teeth, etc.), sometimes with please and sometimes not. He did start saying please and thank you early enough for it to be remarked upon, so we didn’t completely screw up. Maybe.
    I’m pretty chill with anyone else’s parenting as long as it’s not abusive, though some things do drive me nuts – most notably threats of consequences that go nowhere (“I’m going to take that away from you!” repeated more and more hysterically while never taking it away, blargh!). I sometimes wonder at others’ choices (unhealthy foods, little girls dressed in very adult clothes, etc.), but as long as the kids are OK what the hell do I know?
    One of the nicest little girls I know seems to live on bologna and processed cheese food, never eats vegetables or drinks milk, and dresses like a skank (make-up, at 7YO). She is sweet and smart and very considerate and compassionate, so something’s working.

  59. I say “please” when I make a request to my little guy. I see it as modeling, and I see him as deserving the same courtesies that I expect him to show everyone else. I also say please to my students, and I write, “Please translate these sentences” on their tests. No, they don’t have a choice, but I still like to be polite about it. ;-)One of the biggest things I did that I’d hear/read were wrong:
    “Don’t rock your child to sleep.” Thing is, when he was suddenly ready to go down on his own, he did, and he never looked back.
    I also tend to end requests with “OK?,” but I suppose I’m using it more as, “Say OK back to show you’ve heard me and are going to do it.”
    I do have to be careful with some of my “softeners”: I tend to say something like, “OK, little boy, you wanna go brush your teeth and then we’ll read a book?” He’s told me that he finds that confusing: am I asking if he wants to, or telling him he needs to? So I have to watch that one.

  60. We communicate to other people (including our kids) with more than just words. There’s the nonverbals and there are mamas out there who will say that they just have to look without even have to say anything (this goes with the good things too, not just the scolding). I’d also want to point out that kids take their cue from us on how we talk to them and to others, so I see nothing wrong with modeling polite conversation. I don’t believe that an OK will completely undermine me as a parent.

  61. i realize this is an old conversation, but i’m just now reading it, and it reminded me of something i read in a book called “other people’s children” by lisa delpit. she was talking about how language and expectations can get easily misunderstood in classrooms where the children are from one culture and the teachers primarily from another. the example she used was that when middle class people ask their kids, “will you please do x,” what they really mean is “do x!” but that kids from other backgrounds — she was writing about black kids who are poor in this case — hear that question and think it’s actually a question, to which “yes” or “no” might equally be appropriate questions, because their parents would always say simply “do x!” and would never ask them “would they please” or “do they want to.”which is not your point at all, i know, i just was reminded of that book. it’s really great.

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