Guide children to desired goal

Published 5:57 pm Saturday, November 10, 2012

QUESTION: I realize that I have a habit of giving my kids orders rather than talking with them. I know I’m setting up power struggle situations. Is there a way to give directions without sounding like a commanding general?

ANSWER:  Parents who want to develop really good relationships with their children learn to use questions with their kids.

Most of us grew up with lots of parental directives, so that’s the conversation style we fall into as adults.  A better communication pattern is the “ask – don’t tell” method.

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The first goal is stimulating kids to intentionally think about responses to requests, keeping both requests and responses in a cooperative tone and atmosphere.

The second goal is empowering kids to ask questions of themselves, a skill which is essential for moral development.

In “Raising Good Children,” Dr. Thomas Lickona offers examples of changing directional statements into questions which move children toward the desired outcome, while giving them the opportunity to be helpful and smart.

Instead of saying “You’re not cooperating the least bit!” ask “Are you cooperating?”

Instead of saying “Stop fighting and take turns!” ask “How can you solve this problem?”

Instead of saying “Stop screaming!” ask “What can you do instead of screaming?”

Instead of saying “You didn’t do what you were asked,” ask “Did you do what you were asked?”

Instead of saying “Cover your nose when you sneeze,” ask “What should you do when you sneeze?”

Instead of saying “It’s time to go — get your shoes and jacket on.” ask “It’s time to go — what should you do to get ready?”

Instead of saying “It’s 10:30 — you said you’d be home from the movies by 9:30!” ask “Why am I upset?”

Instead of saying “You’ve been on the phone for more than an hour — it’s time to get off,” ask “What’s the rule about using the phone?”

Questioning is not a guarantee of wonderful results.  However, it is an effective  skill for every “parenting toolbox.”

If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-0528.  For free emergency child care call Crisis Nursery at 1-877-434-9599.  Check out