In our quest to attach properly, attune deeply, and respect thoroughly, many parents (me included!) have adopted the bad habit of saying, “OK?” when asking a child to do something.

In our minds we are friendly and checking for approval to show our children how much we love and care for them. BUT, in our child’s mind, he or she is thinking, “GREAT! I get veto power,” and are likely to put on the brakes or shout, “NO!”

Our attempt to be friendly by asking, “OK?” is actually counterproductive. Here’s why:

Putting “OK” at the end of an instruction does two unhelpful things. First, it turns that request into a “yes/no” question, which your child can respond “no” to. Second, it gives your child the authority to ignore your instruction.

Our children get a conflicting message when we add this powerful word to the end of instructions. It is very clear when a parent says, “It’s shoes on time! Are we getting to the mudroom on two feet or two hands and one foot?” The child knows exactly what is expected of her. Adding “OK” with an upward voice inflection turns a statement of instruction (which is clear) into a question (which makes it unclear).

If your child hears, “It’s time to go, OK?” or, “Do you want to put your shoes on? OK?” that child will not know what is expected of her. Also, if your child is asked if she wants to put her shoes on, you have nowhere to go if she says, “NO!” You did ask, and she answered.

Are you the leader of your family?

We can give our children a sense of power by giving them a choice between two options that still gets the job done without asking, “OK.” When we do this, we encourage cooperation, get the task we need to get done complete, and reduce power struggles. The tricky balance for many parents is how to retain the leadership role in the family (or shared with your partner) and also give instructions in a friendly way. When we ask, “OK” we are giving too much power to our children, which is likely to later make us frustrated if they decide not to do what we’ve asked. If you’d like to clarify that your child understands what you are asking, you can say, “Do you understand what… I need/ what time it is/ what we are doing now?”

Breaking the OK habit

In order to stop saying “OK,” remind yourself to form your instructions as friendly statements. Here are three suggestions for getting rid of “OK.”

Count the number of times you say, “OK.”

Be aware of how many times you say this word. Count how many times you catch yourself saying it. Write that word down on a sticky note, put that on the fridge, and try to cut that number down the next day.

You can ask your friend or partner for help to stop saying, “OK.” They can let you know when you’ve done it or you can turn it into a fun game like, “The first person to say ‘OK’ is buying lunch today.”

Use an “It’s __ time. Are you doing that by A or B” instruction.

Instead of saying, “We need to… OK” or “I’d like you to… OK,” try, “It’s (getting in the car) time.” If your child is under the age of four, I do recommend giving your child several warnings that a change in the activity is coming. I call those, “transition signals.”

Here are other examples of that one:

“It’s tooth brushing time. Who is brushing them today, Mommy or Daddy?”

“It’s changing time. Are you wearing your pink tights or yellow dress?”

You many notice that I am using an “It’s ___ time” followed by an “either/ or” question. The combination of these two parenting techniques can be very successful at increasing cooperation!

Use “When/ then,” “After/ then,” or, “First/ then.”

The “when/ then” technique and its awesome variations are a very effective way to encourage cooperation in young children. I invite you to read this post where I explain how to use this parenting tool.

Examples of that technique are:

“When your hands are clean, then I know you are ready to eat.”

“After your puzzle is back in it’s away spot, then I know you are ready to play with me.”

“First shoes on, then your favourite song in the car.”

“After you go down the slide two more times, then we know it’s time to go.”

I’d love to know: how many times did you say “OK” today? 20? 100?! Let’s start a Stopping OK support group over on my Facebook page. We can do it!

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