Was that really a question?

There were some interesting comments and discussions after our last post on saying and hearing ‘no’, that got us thinking in a lot of creative ways about language. One thing that we have been talking about is this: What about the situation that precedes the ‘no’ – the question itself. Do we ask the same questions our children actually hear?

Sometimes we might ask lots of questions (I know I do – Anna), some of which may not be necessary, some of which are just for making conversation, some of which possibly create conflict, which we might be able to avoid. Does this sound familiar to you:

Me: A, do you want to brush your teeth now?

A: No!

Me: …

Hmm. Did I really mean that as a question? In Nonviolent Communication there is a useful distinction between a request and a demand. A request means we are asking someone to do something (usually for us), and we are open to all answers; a demand, on the other hand, means we are asking someone but already know what answer we expect, and will not take the one we don’t like. Usually the one we don’t like is ‘no’. Sometimes on the surface they look deceptively similar :) You probably know what we mean here…

Our children are learning the world, and one of the things they are just learning is the world of words, how powerful they are, what they mean and what they ‘really mean’. They don’t really care much for pragmatics and the hidden meanings, they take our language literally. To a toddler ‘Do you want to brush your teeth now?’ is a very real ‘yes/ no’ question, and as such requires a real ‘yes/ no’ answer. If we’re asking this question, and are not prepared to accept one of the alternative answers, is it really a question?

What to do?

In the numerous times we have talked about this, we have figured that there are several ways of dealing with the ‘no!’ situation, that we are comfortable with. Well, more comfortable than other ways, at least.

If ‘no’ is an acceptable answer, we have no problem. It is important for the child to be able to say ‘no’, and for us, parens, to create a safe space for him to explore the reactions to this. This, in our eyes, is really giving the child the respect he deserves – hearing his ‘no’ and accepting it as a ‘no’ coming from our fellow human being. Unless, of course, it is something dangerous, something we have agreed not to do etc. In other words, if his ‘no’ is something we can live with – why not?

We can involve the child, so that he feels a real participant in the situation, not a person something is done to, which more often than not will change his ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.

If something really needs to be done, the question ‘Do you want to do x?’ is awfully deceptive. We can either explain he will need to brush his teeth in 5 minutes (with a fair warning so he can finish whatever he is busy with).  He might not like it, we might still have to accept his disapproval and all the emotions that go with it (and that is fair – everyone has a right to disagree!), but at least it won’t feel like we’re not being honest (Why are you asking me if you won’t accept my answer?). Or we can give a choice we can live with – ‘Do you want to brush your teeth now or after we read the book?’

So next time you want to ask your child a question, try and ask yourself first: is this a real question? :)

We LOVE to hear your thoughts!

Anna & Nadine

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