February 10, 2010

Telling Kids What to Do is Hard

One piece of advice I have read again and again is that for the toddler and preschool age groups, telling them what to do is much more effective than asking.  This is because children of these ages hear the rhetorical "Will you please pick up your toys?" as an actual question.  They think you're giving them the option to say either yes or no.  Not very surprisingly, the finer points of polite wording have not been learned yet.

I know this is good advice; I've even seen it in action as a substitute teacher.  But for me, it is difficult advice to follow.

Part of my theory of raising children is giving them respect and assuming that they are fundamentally good and want to do what is right.  So it seems a little wrong to order them around all the time.

But it isn't.  In reality, by wording my orders as rhetorical questions, I'm doing the kids a disservice.  I'm setting them up for confusion and a power struggle by appearing to give them a choice, then 'taking it away.'  The key to doing what is right for the child is in finding balance in the transition to rhetorical wording.

If you're ordering your 10 year-old around like a preschooler just because you're still in the habit, they're likely to resent it.  When your child progresses into elementary school, they'll come to understand that "Will you please get ready for bed?" actually means "You need to get ready for bed now."  As your child develops a grasp of this language skill, make sure you make the change with them.  That way, you'll keep doing what's best for the child at each stage of development.

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