“Yes, Mommy”

Breaking Habits of Speech

In my post, Taking Back Control From My Toddler, I referenced the “Yes, Mommy,” response when I give either child a direction. I have been using this tactic more and more and so far am quite pleased with the outcome. Although it may sound ridiculous insisting on such a formal response from my 3 year old (and sometimes almost 2 year old), it is exactly the response that I want. And I want them to respond in that manner to any adult that gives them a direction.

As Childwise explicitly states, and as I know from experience, “Parents experience more frustration at times of instruction than in any other single activity in parenting. Why? Because it is at this point that children decide to obey or disobey.” The book goes on to explain why a parent who repeats himself over and over feels like he is losing — something I have felt many times. From Go get your shoes on to It’s time to clean up, I have been that repeating parent, and it’s terrible. Frustration is an understatement.

In the classroom we call it “checking for understanding.” As a teacher I would teach my lesson, give my students directions for what to do next, and then ask my students to repeat back to me what the directions were. I did this to make sure that: (1) my directions were clear, and (2) to set the kids up to be successful. In other words, I was teaching them to comply with my directions so that they could go off and practice whatever it was I just taught them. 

The idea behind the “Yes, Mommy,” response has many benefits:

  • It is the precursor to insisting on compliance
  • It is a built in check for listening. If you don’t hear a ‘Yes, Mommy,’ chances are they did not hear you
  • It instills a level of respect for grown ups
  • It provides the child with an appropriate default response. In other words, it helps eliminate the whining and rude words that often follow after a direction is given.
  • It helps children exhibit self control

As Childwise says, “A ‘Yes, Mom’ lets you know that your child is either committing himself to obedience by taking the appropriate action or to disobedience by avoiding the task asked of him. But there is no question that he heard.” I just finished Childwise and this is another one of their ideas that has made an incredibly positive impact on myself and my children. 

With Keener, I have been insisting more and more on a “Yes, Mommy” response while also putting on my teacher hat and checking to make sure he knows exactly what I want him to be doing. Because I am trying to break the habit of repeating myself, I have to retrain him to listen the first time a direction is given, and also retrain myself to only give a direction once. To do this, I try to set both of us up for success. Therefore, I may say, Keener, I’m going to give you a direction. I want you to say, ‘Yes, mommy,’ and then go follow the direction. Keener, go put your shoes on. What’s the direction? “Put my shoes on.” Yes, now you say, ‘Yes, mommy,’ and you go do it right away. If met with no response I will prompt, The only option for you is to say, ‘Yes, mama,’ and then go do it.

I do feel a bit like a drill sergeant. But more often than not he is now listening the first time I give him a direction, and I am not feeling nearly as frustrated with issues of compliance. I am also not undermining myself nearly as often by repeating myself 5 times. Both kids are learning that the direction is not a suggestion, nor a ‘do it when you feel like it’ type of request. They know I mean business. And once they have demonstrated that compliance, I immediately offer praise. I noticed you put your shoes on the first time mama asked. You are such an excellent listener.

Childwise mentions that having your child respond in this way makes your child verbally commit to obey. “There’s just something about hearing himself agree to something that elicits an internal compulsion for compliance.”

I started this “training” much more with Keener than with Grace, but since she is a parrot, she has picked up on the same compliant behavior. She usually says, “Ok, Mama” when I give her a direction — what a bonus! 

Two final tips:

  1. Introduce it by sitting down with your kids and explaining what will be required. Childwise says to even make it into a game. Initially, tell your child that when they hear you say his or her name, they are to come to you and say, “Yes, Mom,” and they will in return get a big hug.
  2. Modeling respect goes a long way. I’ve been paying closer attention to the tone and language I am using when my kids say my name. More on responding to your child’s requests to come..

Related Posts:

Teaching Kids To Share

Considering Development and Encouraging Theory of Mind

I often find myself asking Keener to share. You have to share is also one of the most common phrases I overhear at the playground. But what am I really asking Keener to do in this situation? What does it mean to share?

As adults, we decide for ourselves when and what we want to share with others, whether it’s  our food, car, or home. But rarely, if ever, do we ask another adult to give up something that is theirs at the drop of a hat. Can I have your car? I want it.  That just doesn’t happen.

When we are asking our kids to share, we want to be realistic in the ask. I personally don’t like sharing my food. On occasion, I am fine going out to dinner and sharing food with friends and family, but if we are being honest, I really prefer not to. Yet, when we ask our kids to share and they don’t want to, we often make them.

There are a few problems embedded in the way we usually ask our kids to share. First, I don’t think kids actually know what ‘share’ means. They hear us say the word share over and over, but most of the time they aren’t exactly sure what we are asking of them. Second, often when we ask our kids to share, they really don’t want to.  So how do we help our kids understand what this world of “sharing” is all about?

Before launching into what has helped recently with Keener, it’s important to note that we need to keep a child’s development in mind when talking about sharing. ‘Theory of mind’ is an important social-cognitive skill where a child can not only understand their own thoughts, feelings, and wants, but but can distinguish them from what others may be thinking, feeling and wanting.

A good example of this skill involves the following scenario. Take a bag of pretzels and put toys inside the bag, and then ask a child what is in the bag. That child will say pretzels, and be surprised to find there are toys inside the bag instead. Then ask the child “what do you think your friend will say is in this bag?” If the child is three years old, he will say toys, because the child is only thinking about what he knows about the contents of the bag. But if the child is four years old, he will say pretzels, because the four year old can understand that his friend will be tricked just like he was. The four year old is better able to distinguish his thoughts and see that they might be different from his friend’s thoughts.

According to Child Encyclopedia, theory of mind develops without specific teaching, but there are ways to help it develop more quickly by:

  • engaging in rich pretend play;
  • talking about people’s thoughts, wants, and feelings, and the reasons why they act the way they do;
  • hearing and talking about stories, especially those involving surprises, secrets, tricks, and mistakes. These stories invite children to see things from different points of view (Red Riding Hood doesn’t know that the wolf is dressed up as grandma).

Language also plays a big role, and below is some of the language I have used to help Keener develop theory of mind and build his understanding about why I am asking him to share:

I know you love playing with the lawn mower. Do you know who else does? Your friend Clark. When he is over, he also loves playing with the lawn mower, just like you do! That’s why it is important to let Clark have a turn, just like you love having your turn.

You have to look with your eyes to see if a toy is available. Sometimes, someone will have something that you might want. If it is in their hands, they want it too! You can either use your words and ask them for a turn or you can play with something else and look to see when they put that toy down. When you don’t see anyone’s hands on that toy, you know it is available for you to play with.  *This one has worked particularly well with sibling based squabbles. Keener will now say to me, “Grace put it down. It’s available — I didn’t take it from her!” with a sense of pride that he now knows exactly when a toy is available for him to take.

What did you play with at school today?  Who else in your class likes playing with that toy? Sometimes toys can be shared, like playdough. There is usually enough playdough for anyone who wants to play with it. But sometimes there might be only one of something, like a truck. I know you love playing with that green truck at school and I’m guessing Will and Thomas also love playing with the green truck! Because that is a fun truck!

Lastly, deliberately model sharing. If Keener or Grace has something, I will make it a point to say Can I play with that toy please when you are finished? Can we please build with blocks together? The more they hear it, the more likely they are to use this language themselves. Give them the words you want them to use.