How to Get Your Child to Think for Themselves
Do you find that you are continually telling your children what to do? Brush your teeth, put your plate away, make your bed, don’t forget your hat, put on your shoes…sometimes the list feels endless. I don’t know what it is about putting on shoes but I used to have battles with both my children to put their shoes on. I remember one time screaming at Jake to put his shoes on because I had told him, maybe ten times to do it, and he hadn’t. He was playing or getting distracted or pretending he didn’t know how. Then I lost it, he burst into tears and his shoes still weren’t on. I’m sure the neighbours must have thought I was balmy yelling about shoes! Before I became a mother I would never thought that I could end up screaming about something so trivial.
After I thought about what had happened and I was shocked that I had exploded over such a simple thing but as any parent knows it’s the simple things that trip you up. The positive out of all of that was that I knew there had to be a better way. I started off by asking Jake to put his shoes on and then just expecting him to do it. I refused to repeatedly tell him what to do. That helped but it wasn’t quite enough.
Then I started asking him what he needed to do to get ready and after a short period of time, bingo! He got that going out meant shoes on. Sure there was the odd grumble but nothing like before. If you’re tired of being your child’s personal alarm then try asking them questions instead. Questions like ‘what do you need to do to get ready?’ if you’re going out somewhere. Or ‘what do you do after you’ve finished your dinner?’ when they get up and walk away from the dinner table with their plate and glass sitting where they left them. Or ‘do you have everything you need?’ when they are about to begin their homework or go outside and play ball. What is the difference between these two approaches? Well the first means you have to do all the thinking and all your child has to do is follow your instructions (it’s surprising how difficult that sometimes can seem for your child!). Don’t get me wrong there is a time and place for straight out instructions but in many instances there is a better way and that way is by asking questions in order to get your child to think for themselves about what they are doing and what they need to do next. If you consistently use this strategy then over time you will not even need to ask the question to prompt them into action. They will just do what needs to be done.
No, really, it does work. Give it a try, you may be surprised. I’ve been following the ask, don’t tell strategy for some time now with my two boys and ok, we do have the odd hiccough in the system but on the whole it works well and saves me the endless round of rote orders. The best evidence I have that it works is that when we are getting ready in the morning and I tell them I’m going upstairs to brush my teeth they know that is their cue to put on their shoes, collect their bags and lunch boxes and strap themselves into the car. Then I come down and off we go. It makes getting out the door soooo much easier. There is still the odd drama about which shoe goes on which foot or delays while they negotiate which toys to select and take with them in the car but even in amongst all that, it is still a dramatically streamlined routine compared to what it was and as a result, the odd fuss can be easily accommodated and rarely escalates to a stand off.