“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..

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3 thoughts on ““Yes, Mommy”

  1. John

    This is for the “Yes Mommy” post. I think this is a terrific approach to developing responsibility and accountability. It stresses collaboration and a team effort to accomplish following through on a direction. It supports the notion that families work together as a unit. I also think it helps the child to feel a sense of “ownership” so that it eliminates the feeling of blind obedience to authority. Great stuff!

    1. steinhoffjk

      Thanks John! I have definitely seen a positive difference in the way Keener responds to me since implementing this. I often refer to us as a “team” and Keener is seeing the value and benefits of working together to accomplish the many tasks throughout each day.

  2. John

    Terrific!!!! Collaboration is a beautiful thing. If cooperation didn’t supersede competition in this life humankind would suffer greatly. It all begins in each family unit which translates to the greater good.

    I believe there is no greater role in life than being a parent. And parents like you are absolutely essential to making the world a better place.

    Thank you for all you do in communicating this to others who are striving to raise moral, ethical, good people as well!

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