When it comes to persistence, few things compare to a child that really wants something and tries to get it through nagging & negotiating. And few people know that better than a parent who has given that child an answer they don’t want to hear.
From the famed “Are we there yet?” to this morning’s “Can I have ice cream for breakfast?” to this afternoon’s “Can I have ice cream for dinner?” kids are notorious for their one-track minds, and they will ask…and ask…and ask…just in case you’ve changed your mind in the last minute.
This is a learned behavior that children of any age can pick up. They might continue to use it because once, in a moment of weakness, you caved and let them stay up an extra half hour after they asked for the eighth time.
But like any learned behavior, it can be unlearned. The solution comes from Lynn Lott, co-author of the Positive Discipline series of books, and it works on kids as young as two or three, all the way through their teens.
It only takes three simple words: “Asked and Answered.”
The concept is simple. When seven-year-old Daniel begs to dig a giant hole in the front yard and gets “no” for an answer, chances are he’ll be back in five minutes asking again – this time with a “pleeeeeeaase” just so you know he really, really wants to dig the hole.
Instead of repeating yourself or jumping in to a lecture, get eye to eye and follow the process below:
Step One: Ask, “Have you ever heard of ‘Asked and Answered’?” (He’ll probably say no.)
Step Two: Ask, “Did you ask me a question about digging a hole?” (He’ll say yes.)
Step Three: Ask, “Did I answer it?” (He’ll probably say, “Yes, but, I really ….”)
Step Four: Ask, “Do I look like the kind of mom/dad/teacher who will change her/his mind if you ask me the same thing over and over?” (Chances are Daniel will walk away, maybe with a frustrated grunt, and engage in something else.)
Step Five: If Daniel asks again, simply say, “Asked and Answered.” (No other words are necessary!) Once this technique has been established, these are the only words you should need to say to address nagging questions.
Consistency is key! Once you decide to use “Asked and Answered” with your questioning child, be sure to stick to it. If 14-year-old Emma is particularly determined to keep asking to get her eyebrow pierced, stay strong. Answering her question again – or worse yet, changing your answer – will reinforce to her that her nagging works. Although it’ll take some patience, your child will eventually connect the dots and you’ll see results!
Make “Asked and Answered” a joint effort with your spouse, and consider including any family or friends who may be getting the third degree from your child. When Daniel and Emma realize that they won’t get a “yes,” even after they’ve asked twelve times, they’ll get the hint and retire this tactic.
Speech and Language Pathologist, Stacy Pulley reports this technique works well for children with communication challenges, particularly those with Autism. She suggests bringing a notebook or a chalk/dry erase board into the mix and writing down a question once they’ve asked it more than once, keeping in mind their reading level. Or, draw a picture. Then, when your child asks again, point to the board or notebook to remind them that they’ve asked, and you’ve answered. Be sure to use as few words as possible and stay consistent in your language to help them understand the connection as they learn to listen to and respect your answers.
Adding this tool to your parenting toolbox is a positive step toward ending the nagging questions that can wear on even the most resolute of parents. Then, be sure to follow through and stay consistent – and before you know it, 20 questions will be a fun game once again, and no longer a negotiation tactic!
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