when mommy needs to take her inch back


We have been working on obedience with OBoy. There came a point about two months ago when I realized every. single. interaction. was escalated to conflict and involved negotiation on his part. It was as if my no didn’t really mean ‘no’ to him. Except that it does, so thanks to some amazing advice from my friend Lora, we have been running a script for all conversations of that nature in our house. It goes like this:

OBoy: Can I (insert activity that is not permissible at the time/ever)?

Me: No, you may not.

OBoy: May I ask a question?

Me: Yes you may.

OBoy: Why? (or: When can I?)

Me: (Answer of why the activity is not permissible/when he can do it)

Sure, it sounds authoritarian, but it has been the saving grace in our house lately. The amount of strife around here has decreased significantly and I am so grateful. (But that’s not to say that he doesn’t lose his ever loving mind from time to time after not hearing the answer for which he was hoping.)

There are times when I do not have another brain cell to spare on explaining myself and at those moments the answer to “May I ask a question?” is quite simply “no”. I promise you up and down that this is not at all in my nature – in fact it took a lot of introspection to realize that I (a conflict avoid-er) rarely ever used the actual word no, but instead would find myself padding the fall as much as possible: “Well, we are headed to the store soon and we don’t have time.” (translation: no) “OBrother is napping and it would be to loud.” (read: no) “It isn’t on our shopping list.” (AKA: no). Now, these explanations are important to OBoy’s learning how the world works, and I completely respect his curiosity about his surroundings and the “why”s of it all, but more important than that is that he respects me. I have made a concerted effort to respond first with the word no (or, yes if that’s the answer) so that OBoy’s first focus is what Mommy has said, not why Mommy has said it (which is what he often would try to negotiate on).

This does not mean that at every turn I am stomping on his precious preschool sized dreams. Really, I don’t say no to anything more than I used to (things like, “Can I bring these oven mitts to church?” or “Can we go back to Disney World today?”) I just frame it more clearly and OBoy’s expectations in the situation are more clear as well. There will certainly be a day when he and I can have a discussion about whether or not he can have that new item or go to that movie (heaven help me when that day comes), but today is not that day. Today, if I give him that inch of negotiation, he goes all in for the mile, and I’m left with no authority to stand on. I firmly believe that these are the years when we pour in, pour in, pour in, invest, invest, invest and that what we will reap as a result is a respectful conversation about that movie some 10 years down the road.

I think. I guess I’m not there yet, so I don’t really know.

11 Responses to “when mommy needs to take her inch back”

  1. Samantha

    Definitely will be trying this. Thanks for posting.. I know it isn’t always easy posting about parenting – especially discipline, but I’m struggling with the phase my oldest son is in (I think he is about OBoy’s age) and I think this will really help us both.

  2. Amy Rogers Hays

    Thanks for sharing from the trenches, Allison! A good script is a life saver! And oh the questions! The little one I nanny, 2 1/2, just likes to ask the same questions over and over and over. I am sure it’s developmentally significant, but after answering the same question four times in 20 seconds, I have taken to asking him the question back. And then he laughs and either gives me back the same answer I gave him, or he gives me a random story/stream of consciousness. Having a calm plan and script is so great! I love what you said about believing that these are the years when we pour in, pour in, pour in! Love this space!

  3. melissa

    good thoughts alison something i will definitely be thinking about today. we have a couple of mile-takers around here at times as well :)

  4. LoraLynn

    Yes. That’s exactly it, Mama. Be diligent now to teach respect and obedience and HOW to question and you will reap so many benefits down the road. But putting in the work now when you’re tired and frazzled is hard, so I’m so proud of you for digging in and doing it. You will not be sorry you expended the energy. Pinky swear.

  5. Krista

    Wonderful! I am wondering though how you came up with the script and did you tell OBoy he could respond with “may I ask a question?” or was it his natural tendency to do so. I have a just turned 4 year old son and this so resonated with me. Thank you!

  6. Ashley

    I completely agree. Personally after 6 years of 2nd grade teaching I believe (little) kids should rarely get negotiating room. It will inevitably be a problem in the classroom. So all that to say, my 3yo gets in trouble for asking why

  7. Julie S.

    You seriously just saved my life. My son, almost 4, has been throwing fits about everything and I swear, I can’t get through to him that no means no. HOW did you get OBoy to ask you a question instead of whining? It is about to sabotage my patience levels!

  8. Patricia

    I completely agree with your tips. Simply throwing the “No” seem to encourage him to ask more questions. Explaining the situation will have his attention shifted to the explanation itself.


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