One of the fundamental things I learned about being a toddler parent was to give them choices. This is often done in question form.
Do you want to wear the blue pants or the red? Do you want an apple or grapes? Do you want to leave the playground now or in five minutes?
In this way, we are allowing our children to believe they have a say in what they do. It gives them power. This power enables them to develop critical thinking skills – skills that are generally seen as integral to being a successful adult.
This method only works, of course, if you abide by their answer. If they want the red pants, let them wear the red pants. This sounds obvious, but in some situations, the child’s response is often of no consequence to the outcome because you’ve already settled on one.
What many people do – myself included – is pepper children’s days with questions. Most of these questions aren’t asked to warrant a response. They’re almost rhetorical. Or they’re asked because the asker wants to hear something specific. A question might be asked simply to eke out conversation with the child. What’s cuter than a chatty two year old?
Do you want to go to Grandma’s? We’re having salmon for dinner. Do you like salmon? When the child says, no, they in fact do not want to go to Grandma’s, you’re likely to pick them up and say something like, well, we’re going anyway. And, salmon is what’s for dinner.
So why ask?
It happens easily. I slip into this often. It doesn’t even have to be for things of great consequence. It can be small. Do you want to go to the store? you ask as you buckle them into their car seat. What you’re really saying is, we are going to the store. So just say it. Don’t ask.
Or ask open-ended questions instead, like what do you like about going to grocery store? It’s true you might get a snarky nothing! in response, but you’re more likely to go forward with a cooperative child than if they say they don’t want to go in the first place – after you supposedly gave them a choice.
As I’ve become aware of this child-rearing tic, I frequently find myself telling our daughter’s grandparents to stop. I feel like a jerk, one of those hyper-organized moms veering into helicopter land. A mom who is micromanaging my child’s life instead of going with the flow. But this particular thing happens all too often. I think if we were more aware, we might get (slightly) better, less disruptive outcomes in our already chaotic days of child-rearing.
I work hard to empower my daughter with choice. Her choice. Her wee voice matters. And yet when Grandma questions do you want dinner? I am adamant. Don’t ask her. Just tell her. It’s dinnertime.
By asking children questions without any intention of respecting their replies, you are telling them that their voice doesn’t matter.
In turn, it may negate those other questions – the ones you use to empower them, your give-them-a-choice questions. It’s confusing to them. Haven’t we all heard that consistency is key?
Now, I am not one who believes every decision in every day should be up to a child. I’m the parent; I make the rules. But it does feel good to come together with your child or children and make them complicit in your plans. This may help things run smoother. In fact, it probably will.
But they’re kids, remember. They don’t truly play by any rule books.