Be clear, okay?
Many years ago when I had small children a chance comment by a stranger changed how I talked to my kids. I was at the library, wrangling a VERY active two year old. As he darted out the door, I grabbed his hand and said "You have to hold my hand in around cars. Okay?". An older lady coming in the door said "Oh honey, you shouldn't ask him if it's okay. It's for his own good". Like all harried moms, I smiled and finished lugging us to the car. Only later, when I recalled the interaction, did I really think about it. In an effort to speak gently to my son, I was asking his permission about many things. And most of them were not his decision to make. Don't mistake my meaning, children deserve to make decisions for themselves as they grow in independence. That is how we show them respect. But these choices are shaped in part by their boundaries. Choosing which clothes to wear, the books they want for bedtime, which fruit to have in their lunch, these are choices that give them control of their everyday life in a positive way. I realized that by saying "Okay?" all the time, I was implying a choice that wasn't available. And I was opening myself up for fights I didn't need to have. So, like a good scientist, I experimented. I consciously stopped adding okay to certain statements. That first week was an epiphany. "We are leaving in 5 minutes", "It's time for dinner", "Light's out as soon as this story is over", was more effective just without that one word. I noticed that the phrases that I used with the "okay?" added invited more negotiations. For some things, this is good. Good negotiation skills are a gift to give your children. But for safety issues, household rules, respect for others and the like, non-negotiable is the key. I have carried that into my classroom as well, and have shared this nugget of information with many parents. Clear communication is key for children this age. They are learning social skills, testing boundaries, and seeing where their will and the will of those around them intersect. And ultimately we are teaching them how to treat us, and others by how we talk to them. I have had numerous strong willed children come through my doors, they can be exhausting, frustrating, and extremely rewarding. Generally one of the first times they run up against this intersection of wills is when they tell me (often rudely) to do something for
them, or flat out tell me "NO". What they hear from me, in a calm voice is "You may not speak to me that way" . No anger, or heat, just the simple statement. The vast majority of the time, the child looks confused and then asks for what they need. I spend time observing the child's interactions with adults and see a pattern. The child is aching for instruction on how to interact with the people around them. They blossom as they are given the words to ask politely, interrupt politely, and be assertive without being aggressive. This is the basis for social skills children need throughout their lives. So be clear, be precise, and expect respect. It is never too early for your children to be trusted with these skills. If you see a vast difference in how your child acts for their teachers as opposed to how they act with you, please ask us! We have tools that you can use to make interactions with your children easier and more respectful.