Do you notice that I always ask questions? Even in my writing? That for some reason I can't just write normal sentences, they have to be opened ended, like I'm actually waiting for a response?

Do you know what I'm talking about?

Yeah. That would also be the way I talk to Mazzy.

And you know what?

That's the wrong way to deal with a two-year-old.

The other day, we were out to brunch with Dr. B (aka my sister) and I was telling her that I have been having problems getting Mazzy to listen to me. She doesn't respond when I call her name and she doesn't seem to register that I am angry when she doesn't do what I say.

Below is my best memory of our conversation:

Dr. B: You should stop phrasing everything in a question.

ME: What do you mean?

Dr. B: Don't say things like, 'do you want to brush your teeth?' or 'do you want to eat dinner?' when she doesn't really have an option.

ME: What's wrong with questions?

Dr. B: You should tell her to do things instead of asking her to do things.

ME: But what if she still doesn't do the things?

Dr. B: Once you say to do something, you have to follow through.

My sister said that by continually asking Mazzy for her participation in what are mandatory parts of her day, I was not teaching her "compliance". In other words, I should only give her a choice when she actually has a choice.

She also said I should only ask questions when I know Mazzy knows the answer and I should never ask a question more than once because letting it continually go unanswered just reinforces non-compliance.

Do you know what happened next?

I sat there in confused silence.

Every single thing I thought to say to Mazzy was a question. I couldn't even figure out how to phrase simple statements.

Finally I spoke.

ME: Mazzy, do you want to eat your eggs? I mean, why aren't you eating your eggs? I mean EAT YOUR EGGS!!!! (pause) Am I supposed to force feed her eggs now?

Dr. B: Try saying— Mazzy, it's time to eat your eggs. 

ME: Mazzy, it's time to eat your eggs. 

Dr. B: Good.

ME: She's still not eating her eggs.

Dr. B: That's fine. You haven't made a demand or asked a question. You've just told her that it's mealtime.

ME: Oh. Okay. Huh?

Basically, if I make a demand, I need to follow through so I should never make a demand when following through isn't possible. Instead, I should try to phrase my request in a way that is just giving her information.

Dr. B also said I might have an easier time getting compliance if I gave Mazzy a choice. But if I opt to give her a choice, I should make sure the choice is between two things that are on my terms. Put simply, don't ask a 'yes or no' question unless 'no' is an acceptable answer.

Dr. B: For example, instead of saying 'do you want eggs?', try 'do you want eggs or toast?'

ME: Mazzy, do you want eggs or toast?

Mazzy: Toast.

ME: I knew she'd pick toast.

Dr. B: Remember to praise her.

ME: Good toast eating, Mazzy.

Dr. B: Good listening…


What can I say? I'm a parent in progress.

You know?


If you are a frequent question-asker like myself, following Dr. B's suggestions are a lot harder than it sounds. But as I slowly get more comfortable with it (it's been three hard days), I am also starting to see a real difference in Mazzy's behavior.

Or more accurately, a change in our dynamic.

One big result was our very first dinner conversation which I am talking about on Babble today. Check it out by clicking here