Ask Maxwell: Why Do I Keep Asking My Child What She Wants?

published Sep 5, 2022
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A small toddler girl with brush and dustpan sweeping floor in the kitchen at home
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I keep finding myself trying to tell my daughter to do something, but it turns into a question. For example, “Put your clothes in the hamper… Okay?” Do other parents do this?


Dear Brittney,

When I was in teacher training this came up often. It’s so easy for us to doubt our own command of a situation with children or to doubt that they are going to do what we ask them to do, so we turn it into a weak question, which only makes it worse and telegraphs to them that this is conditional, so they think MAYBE they won’t do it!

Children actually want you to be in charge of them (and make good decisions), so if you’re sure about what you’re saying, you absolutely don’t want to turn it into a question. Teachers are taught to always lead and use their words – declarative sentences – to pull the children forward and not give them a second to think about whether they want to do it or not. Especially with teaching, there are too many activity moments in a school day and you simply can’t allow most of them to be decisions the children get to make.

Get used to saying – sweetly, of course – “Everyone put your laundry in the hamper.” Period. That’s it. The energy of that sentence will land differently and carry conviction, which is what they need to hear.

And beware of the tag-on soft question at the end of your asks with your children. It’s a good habit to break and will make your moments like these feel a lot more energetic, clear and sharp. Of course, if they don’t do it, that’s another problem – one to be solved differently – but asking it as a question won’t make a difference. 🙂

Best, M

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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