I was recently in the Newark, NJ airport and my flight had been delayed for the 4th time. There was a family of four near me – Dad, Mom, and two kids – 7-year-old boy/girl twins. We chatted for a bit, and as I drifted back to my book I heard mom say, “Hey kids, we are going to go get lunch, o-kay?”
The little boy – a compliant kid – said, “Sure! I’m starving!”
The little girl – a strong-willed kid – yelled, “NO!! I’m NOT hungry!”
Earlier I’d heard from the dad, “Hey kids – let’s go use the restroom – okay?” The answers were similar. The compliant kid was a “yes”, the strong-willed kid was a “NO!”.
What do kids hear when parents/caregivers use the word/question, “O-kay?” after a request?
Exactly that… a request… not a statement or directive.
Later in life, compliant kids who hear “O-kay?” too frequently tend to become indecisive, and have a difficult time making decisions. They also tend to listen to peers, the internet, and other external voices rather than developing a strong internal sense of cause-effect and self-control. Why is this the case? Modeling.
Strong-willed kids, on the other hand, “hear” the “o-kay?” as a chance to push back. The battle of the wills is on, and the odds go up that these kids will grow into teens and young adults who experience problems with authority.
Love and Logic encourages parents/caregivers to provide firm limits in ways that don’t start power-struggles or imply weakness. This happens when we describe what we a willing to do…and add a couple of choices for good measure:
“Hey, kids, mom and I are getting ready to head for lunch – want to leave in 4 minutes or 5 minutes?”
Compliant kid: “yay! Let’s go now!”
Strong-willed kid: “I’m NOT hungry!”
Parents (resisting the urge to argue and remembering to follow through with a smile): “Can’t wait to see how good Mickey D’s tastes in New Jersey– we will be leaving in 4 minutes.”