Framing Questions and Commands So Your Child Will Listen

The way in which a directive is presented can elicit a variety of responses. Prior to communicating with your child, set your expectation.

Is your goal to remove choice to ensure a task is completed or is your goal to offer choice to empower the child? These tips from our Pediatric Social Worker will explain when to “tell” your child to do something or when to “ask.”

When to “tell” your child what to do:

If there is a time-sensitive task that must be completed, posing a question might not be in your best interest. Asking your child to do something may imply a choice. Saying, “Johnny, can you take out the trash?’ can open pandora’s box for reactions and can, in fact, allow Johnny the option to say “no.” Telling Johnny to take out the trash doesn’t give any alternative option and the direction is cut and dry.

If you would like to provide choices when telling, you can say, “Johnny, please take out the trash and then you can resume watching TV.”

When to “ask” your child to do something:

Asking your child to do something can allow the child to feel more empowered in regards to making their own choices. You can structure these choices so that any response that you receive is okay. For example, asking your child, “Do you want macaroni and cheese or chicken parm for dinner?” offers options that you are ok with (you were planning to make one or the other so their input isn’t going to greatly alter your plans).

Tips while “telling” or “asking”:

Regardless if you are telling or asking, make sure that you stay calm and that your non-verbal and verbal cues are non-threatening (threatening cues may foster increased child resistance). If you are telling your child to do something, stay firm but recognize the tone of your voice and attitude. If you are raising your voice and showing signs of being mad, this may put the child on the defense. Staying firm but continuing to use a calm voice and body will maintain your message, show that you will ignore negative behavior, and aid in child investment quicker.

Click here to read more about handling stubborn behavior.