The biggest mistake made by lots of parents is they combine wordy explanations with instructions, as in, “Honey, a friend of mine is coming over and I’d like to serve coffee in this room, so I need you to pick up these toys and move them somewhere else, OK?” Explanations invite push-back, as in, “I was here first! Why can’t you and your friend use the kitchen?” These parents tell me their children are argumentative, which simply means that they, the parents, combine explanations with instructions. Under those conditions, all children, being clever, will seize the opportunity to push back. In this example, the proper form is “I want you to pick up these toys and move them somewhere else, right now,” and the proper response to “Why?” is “Because I said so.”
And then, as in the above example, the biggest mistake made by some parents is attaching “OK?” to the end of what they think are instructions. This quickly becomes a bad habit. I once had a parent count the number of times she did that in a day. She reported over 50, telling me that even though she was counting, she couldn’t make herself stop. “OK?” is not an instruction. It is a namby-pamby request, a petition made to the resident prince or princess of petulance. It deserves to be ignored, which is what usually happens.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.