Behavior & Environment

A Quick and Easy Positive Parenting Tool

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Positive parenting can be difficult to implement, but whether you’re just getting starting or you’re already a pro, here’s a quick and easy tactic you can try today: Ask questions! It’s one of the best tools you have in your caregiver toolkit. Let’s take a look at the Positive Discipline tool, “Asking vs. Telling”.

Telling: When you give a child a command, they often tune you out and you fall into the stressful cycle of command and ignore: you tell them what you need for them to do, they ignore you. You (getting a bit more frustrated, impatient and annoyed,) tell them again what you need for them to do, but they continue to ignore you. Now you’re getting even more frustrated, impatient and annoyed. You see where this is going and it’s not effective or fun for either you or the child.

Asking: Instead, you can use Asking vs. Telling. Rather than give a command, you ask a question. Instead of saying, “Put on your shoes. It’s time to go outside,” you’d ask, “What happens after snack?” If you keep a regular routine, the child knows outside time is after snack and outside time means they have to put on their shoes. Once they excitedly answer the question (because kids love knowing things,) you excitedly congratulate and reinforce with “YES, that’s right! Let’s get our shoes on and get outside!” Why does this simple change of phrase work?

Why this works: In adult terms, Neil Cooper says, “Questions trigger a mental reflex known as ‘instinctive elaboration.’ When a question is posed, it takes over the brain’s thought process. And when your brain is thinking about the answer to a question, it can’t contemplate anything else.” However, that’s not only true for adults. Questions hijack a child’s mind too, and for a brief moment, their mind searches for the answer to your question. The best time to foster the cooperation you’re looking for is during this answer discovering mode. Asking questions and allowing the child to remember or discover the answer also supports their cognitive development and executive functioning.

What questions have you asked a child today? (Bet you thought about the answer to that question for a second without even realizing you were doing it!).