Stop Saying ‘OK?’ After Every Instruction You Give A Child

Stop Saying ‘OK?’ After Every Instruction You Give A Child
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Have you ever eavesdropped on other parents on the playground? Don’t they sound, rather, er, wishy-washy sometimes? “Sophie, we don’t throw sand at our friends, OK?” Or, “Declan, it’s time to go now, OK?” Or, “Madge, leave that dog poo alone, OK? Poo is yucky, OK?”

Photo: Francisco Becerro/Flickr

The thing is, for Madge, it is not OK. She wants to roll in dog poo more than anything she’s ever wanted in her two years on earth. And Declan would rather spend the night alone on the playground, exposed to the elements, digging a hole for warmth under the see-saw, than go home and climb in your stupid bathtub.

Sophie just really wants to blind her playmate.

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Which makes the suffix “OK?” kind of absurd. And yet we all do it, right? Sometimes I listen to myself instructing my four-year-old: “We’re going to leave the beach now, OK?” which obviously leaves the door open for him to say no, it’s not OK.

I came across this post this morning and it struck a nerve:

For some kinds of parents — and I include myself in this group — we don’t want to be hard-arse authoritarians, so we tend to err too much on the side of seeking consensus. What we really want to do is guide kids and set limits, not ask that they agree with us at every turn.

This doesn’t mean that children can’t have input and some control, as Hannah Gooding notes above. When I can think ahead enough, I’ll say something to my son like, “We’re leaving the beach in five minutes,” and when he (inevitably) screams nooooo, I say, “When we get home, we can have a bath first or a little TV first — which would you like?”

If I’m lucky, that sufficiently distracts him from the pain of leaving the beach. If I’m not, he screams bloody murder and I have to frog-march him to the car.

But I’m going to remove “OK” from my parenting vocabulary, because I think it gives kids an illusion of input they don’t actually have, and that’s kind of a crummy thing to do. Let them have input when you really mean it. OK?


  • I always thought the “OK/Okay” in those situations were making sure the child understood, not asking for their permission.

    • For an adult’s ears, yes, that’s the meaning. But for the little person, it changes the focus from ‘don’t do the thing’ to ‘is that OK?’. The little person’s brain seizes on that and comes back with ‘no, it’s not OK!’. The trick is to give them a restricted choice. Of course that’s easier to say than do.

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