Diana Boggia: How can I stop my child from repeating the same questions?
I saw you last year at my daughter’s preschool and really enjoyed your presentation. We have been working hard to implement consistent routines and they are working wonderfully!
I have a 4-year-old who after asking a question and receiving an answer, continues to ask. (Sometimes the answer is even yes, but in a few minutes.) I realize that at some point I must have given in for her to believe if she asks again she’ll get what she wants. I know my first step is to be consistent, but how else should I handle the situation? I’m not sure if it warrants a time-out; what would you suggest?
Mom of Questions and Answers
Dear Q&A Mom,
Answering your daughter’s repetitive questions will need to be your new area of focus, as you have successfully mastered consistency in routines. It’s time to get consistent with your communication as well.
You may be responding differently with your words as well as your content, so she feels there is wiggle room to get you to change your mind. Your voice (lower or higher intonation as well as volume level) will send either a message of confidence or your expectation of her pushback. And then there’s lack of consistency. Sticking to what you say 80 percent of the time, with a 20 percent chance of changing your mind, trains her to negotiate harder, beg longer and tantrum louder, since she just might be successful and wear you down.
As a parent I totally understand giving in, being worn out and simply saying ”OK, just this once.” However, as a parent and an educator, I know that is ineffective. Children see the change of heart as success (a reward) for their hard work (a tantrum). They need boundaries. They need to know what to expect, and they need to be able to count on your answer remaining the same.
You wrote that your daughter continues to ask again and again, even if you have changed your answer from no to yes. The reason she continues to ask is because you have changed your answer, so she needs to know if you will change your answer again. A time-out is not warranted because she is not misbehaving; she is testing communication. Changing your communication will change her behavior.
A FEW TIPS
Here are suggestions to eliminate continuous questions.
1. Before you answer, decide “What is my answer?” Your immediate response can be “I’ll think about it let you know after breakfast.” Once you give an answer, you must stick to it, as you are training her to accept that boundary.
2. Decide on the language that you will always use, so you train her ear to hear “Yes, WHEN you finish your dinner, THEN you may have ice cream.” Training her to listen for your answer is the first step. When you start your answer with “when,” then she will learn to listen for the “then.”
3. Give a benchmark activity time frame for when responding. Children are concrete thinkers, so abstract answers like “maybe later,” “not right now,” and “perhaps tomorrow,” leave a parent open for continuous questioning. For them, five minutes is later. Use phrases like, “Yes you may,” “after lunch,” “when it is dark,” “after our company leaves,” or “yes, tomorrow.” When you say “tomorrow” take her to the calendar and let her draw something on tomorrow to represent the activity for “tomorrow.”
4. Set a timer if you need to identify a specific time (2:30) rather than a benchmark activity (after lunch). Place the timer where she can watch the minutes tick away to help her accept and internalize your answer.
5. Be mindful of your tone of voice and your consistent wording. Speak with confidence.
6. Do not show frustration or anger with her repetitive questions. Simply repeat your prior response (“After breakfast”). Your frustration may be the fuel she’s looking for, so her questions become a misbehavior rather than questionable communication.
How we communicate and respond in nearly every situation almost always will determine our child’s success. Mindful communication, patience and understanding that you are her role model will give you the results you are looking for.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a parenting educator in Stark County, Ohio. Send your child-rearing questions to FamilyMatters@cantonrep.com or The Repository, c/o Family Matters, 500 Market Ave. S, Canton, OH 44702.