As our little people learn language, they can begin to express their wants and needs verbally. Finally, all our efforts into promoting speech production pay off! All those activities of pointing, modeling to identify objects by name, and exchanges between adult and child has culminated into…. Being bossed around by 2 year-olds. "I want milk. Give me a cookie. I need my jacket. Not that jacket!" And so it goes…. So, how do we continue to encourage positive verbal communication, without feeling like our lives are being managed by tiny drill sergeants, who follow us around all day, and belt endless orders to meet their ever-changing needs? By helping them learn how to convert their needs, problems, and wants, from statements into questions.
Michael: (a thirsty 2 year-old) Mom, get me milk.
Parent: (A patient Mommy) Sounds like you need help. Why don’t you ask me a question with manners?
Michael: Mom, can you please get me milk?
Many times, in their egocentric world, children make requests with loud volume and demanding tone. It comes out in curdling ways. The first part is teaching kids to ask with manners. Initially, whenever coaching them to use the words please, thank you, excuse me, in daily interactions; add the phrase, “with your manners.” Eventually, you can drop the first part (please, thank you, excuse me, etc), and ask them to use their manners and they can come up with which manner to use. The second part is to coach them in converting their statement into a question. Putting it all together sounds like:
Parent: Danny, we are about to leave, can you please find your coat?
Danny: (a vivacious 4 year-old) after a few minutes of looking
I can’t find my coat. Ugh. It isn’t anywhere.
Parent: Sounds like you have a problem. Why don’t you ask a question?
Danny: Where is my coat?
Parent: I am not sure. Sounds like you need help. Why don’t you ask another question with manners?
Danny: Mom, can you please help me find my coat?
Parent: Sure, let’s go look.
Coaching children to convert their demands into questions also affects their emotional state. Demands usually are saturated in a problem- lacking the item of desire, whereas questions are saturated in the solution of getting a problem solved. Once your child becomes familiar with the model, they will begin to internalize the process. Granted, it may take a
L O N G time for them to internalize the model, and even still revert back to the curdling demands from time to time. But the times when they remember what to do, stay calm, and ask for help are so validating that all that coaching is a total WIN!
If you, like me, have experience raising rowdy 2 year-olds, then you know it takes the patience of a turtle in a triathlon, to get to glory of the 3s. And it feels like a triathlon with all the running, ducking, zigging, and zagging. A lot of literature advises parents, do not tell the 2 year-old “no”; instead tell them what they can do. Now, that is great advice. But, when you have 2 year-olds like my 2 year-olds, it starts to become quite time consuming to think of what they can do for the non-stop things that they cannot do. And quite frankly, sometimes, I am not in the mood. So, for all those realists like me, who cannot always take the time to think of a replacement behavior, adopt the “No Thank You.” I find that it is just as effective in distracting the 2 year-old from the presented behavior long enough, that you can effortlessly redirect them into a more desired behavior. For example,
Michael: opening cabinet that holds all the pots and pans
Mommy: while removing Michael’s hand from the cabinet No Thank You redirecting him to another area of the kitchen.
As you physically redirect them, the verbal prompt, “no thank you,” creates a non-confrontational interaction, and eludes the power struggle. The difference in a “no” vs. a “no thank you” keeps the interaction light. Follow up with a quick physical redirection (reposition their hands, move them to another area of the room, give them something else), and keep on moving to the finish line.