Anyone else tired of dealing with attitude in your little ones? It seems like the minute my son turned three his sass level skyrocketed through the roof and just kept ramping up each day!
From a very early age kids learn that they can use their words as a means of control over others, because it’s what they’ve seen in adults. Parents are constantly using their words to instruct, redirect, or discipline their children. It’s only natural that our kids would begin to mimic this behavior.
The One Rule
So I started taking note of the most common phrases that my son was using that seemed rude or abrasive, and they all had one thing in common: they were all demands. “I want a snack!” “It’s my turn!” “Give it to meee!”
As a result of this discovery, we developed one simple rule in our home… Children don’t make demands, they ask for permission.
Instead of “I want a snack,” it’s, “May I have a snack please?” And instead of “It’s my turn”, its “Can I have a turn?”
This may seem obvious, but it’s actually less common than you think. Most parents actually focus on correcting the tone of their child’s demand, rather than requiring them to ask for permission. For example, if a child yells “I want a snackkkkk!,” many parents will redirect them to say “I want a snack, please.”
Tacking on a “please” is definitely more polite, but it doesn’t address the deeper issue.
Demands and Entitlement
A demand is made from a sense of entitlement. The child feels that they should have something, and so they say it. The subtle difference of requiring your child to ask permission instead of making a demand reaffirms that the parent is in control. When you child asks for something, you as the parent can say “yes,” or you can say “no.” The parent is in charge of making the decision.
And the interesting thing is, children are much more likely to accept a “no” when it’s in response to a question they’ve asked rather than a demand they have made. Because in the act of asking the question, the child is already prepared to hear a yes or no answer…it’s a 50/50 chance.
Another benefit to having your child ask permission is that it naturally shuts down nagging. A child can walk around the house demanding “I want to watch a movie” a million times, but when you require them to ask “Can I watch a movie?” they get a definitive answer. If the answer is “no” and they ask you again, you can simply say “asked and answered.” When parents are consistent, children learn quickly that “no” really means “no” and they stop whining and nagging.
Important Things to Note
Make sure to provide your child lots of opportunities to make age-appropriate choices throughout the day, so that they can also feel a sense of control over their environment. For example, letting your child choose what they want to wear or what kind of fruit they want with their breakfast. Children who are given the opportunity to make choices will be less likely to lash out when parents need to make tough decisions os say “no.”
Of course like any parenting strategy, it takes time to teach your child that they need to ask, rather than demand. Whenever my son makes a statement like “I need a snack now!!” I simply say, “Are you trying to ask me something?” He immediately knows to ask politely for whatever it is that he wants.
He still struggles (as most 3 year olds do) when the answer is “no,” but it’s getting better every day. The important thing to me is that he learns respect for authority. I want him to know that he needs to ask permission because we as his parents know what is best for him, even if he doesn’t understand it in the moment.