Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Parenting's four-letter word

My kids learned lots of four-letter words from me. I would like to say that knowledge came as a result of a lesson plan entitled, "Colloquial Terms We Will Not Use.” I would really like to say that. Unfortunately, they learned them exactly how you think they did. Not my finest moments. I can only imagine how many more they'd know if I still had to drive in Atlanta's traffic...

But there’s one four-letter word my kids use that no one would bat an eye at. And in most situations it’s perfectly acceptable. But parents of young children should be very careful with its use, since it enables their impressionable youngsters the ability to ignore them. What’s the magical, get-out-of-obedience word?  Okay.

Direct, clear communication. That’s how we should talk to our kids as we are training them in first-time obedience. “Come here.” Not, “Put down your cup, put on your shoes and come here.” One direction at a time, with the expectation that your child will obey the clear, simple command. *

Sometimes, though, we confuse directness with sternness, or even unkindness. Because of this, lots of us tend to add, “okay” to the end of our instructions to our children.  It seems so innocuous. You say, “Come here, okay?” which you think means, “Come here, please.” But the minute you add that “okay,” your instruction becomes negotiable. Because you just asked your child to come – you didn’t tell you child to come.

When you say, “Okay” you have given your child the ability to ignore your command because it became a question! If you add that qualifier to the end of any command, you no longer have a command; you have a request. You just made obedience optional. If you want to come, great. If not, okay.

Maybe some of your kids wouldn’t look for that loophole. But those precocious ones will absolutely hear the question mark following okay and realize they suddenly have a choice. And you, dear parent, gave that choice to your sweet offspring.

I know how easy it is to let that dreaded, “Okay?” slip in. We kept our friend’s first grader for the afternoon recently and I cannot believe the number of times I put that four-letter word at the end of my directions to her. Wasn’t a big deal because we were just having a fun afternoon together! But it was a good wake-up call to remember that being intentional about saying what you mean and meaning what you say as you train for obedience so, so important.

If you want to add the, “please,” go ahead. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking “okay” means the same thing.

Okay. It’s the real four-letter word in parenting.

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*Some people have raised concerns over my use of words like, “command,” “direction,” and “obedience.” If you are uncomfortable with those words, I hope you’ll go back and read my post about who’s the boss.  Someone's going to be giving directions - either you or your kid. Life's going to be so much better for all parties involved if the parents are the ones in charge.)