Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekly Column: No Questions Asked

At bedtime, our home can look one of two ways: full of calm harmony or bulging over with madness. As with most transitions – leaving the house, stopping a game, starting bath time – there are plenty of opportunities for disobedience and dramatic, willful refusals.

But there are plenty of ways to make the process run more smoothly, too.

With my 4-year-old, a sure way to get her refusals flowing is to ask her a question instead of stating the desired action outright. Asking, “Are you ready to put your pajamas on?” is as good as saying, “Whenever you’re ready, Princess.” When she answers “No, I’m not ready!” it becomes a battle; she’s chosen the wrong answer from her parents’ point of view. Asking a question implies that we’ll respect her answer, and rightly so. Posing a choice to her, but not really meaning it to be a choice leaves her confused and frustrated. Meltdown commencing in 3..2..1..

So why did we ask if what we meant to do was tell? To make sure there’s no wiggle room in our daughter knowing what’s expected of her, we’ve learned to say it like this: “Come put your pajamas on, please.” She still may refuse or get mad about it, but at least we’re not giving her a chance to misunderstand our intention. There are many times when a question is warranted, but when we intend to convey instruction, we try to make our purpose clear.

Our bedtimes (and myriad other transitions) have gone much smoother by using simple instructions, respectfully given. Like, “Come give me a kiss, you darling, you.” At the very least, our daughter will know exactly what she’s supposed to do.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if she ran, giggling, to kiss her daddy instead. She is her mother’s child.


  1. Great advice! I think the hardest part for me is that I always want to tack the word 'okay' onto the end of every sentence. So, I might say, "Katherine, come get your pajamas on" and then, instead of that lovely 'please' I'll say, "okay?" It's like I'm asking for a fit! Fortunately, in recent months I've been getting better about it and, you're right, our transitions have been a lot smoother.

  2. Yes, great advice! I often find myself doing the question thing and then reaping the undesired results. This column is a great reminder for me to knock it off and just tell them what I want them to do! It'll be so much easier on all of us! :)

    Also - great idea (on my blog) about making the stick cleanup a fun event. I'm sure my girls will love making stick bouquets! :) Once we can step into the yard without sinking to our knees in mud, that is...

  3. So true. I've found with Levi that giving him a choice really helps too. It gives him some sense of control over his own actions, but keeps those actions to what I want. Ex: Do you want to take your bath now or in ten minutes? What book do you want to read before bed?

  4. I loved this, like others have said, so true. And what Madeline said above - I'll give the choice like "do you want your dinosaur pj's or your train pj's?" That little bit seems to help :)

  5. Yes, yes, even in my many years of experience (tons of babysitting and childhood education and 2 years of being a parent myself) I still have to consciously change my wording and yes sometimes tantrums still happen. If only I could get everyone else in our life to understand that not everything is a choice and when you phrase it that way it confuses my baby and fuels the tantrum fire.


Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?