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?
ME: I knew she'd pick toast.
Dr. B: Remember to praise her.
ME: Good toast eating, Mazzy.
Dr. B: Good listening…
ME: Oh right. GOOD LISTENING, MAZZY!!!!
What can I say? I'm a parent in progress.
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.