17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Monday, November 20, 2006

“Should We Go, Mom?”—Talking with our Children

My nephew must have been between two and three years old when he went through this phase: whenever he was in the car, and the car came to a stoplight, he would raise his little voice from the backseat and ask, "Mom! Should we go?" over and over, until the light changed and they went. And then the next time they stopped, sure enough, from the backseat, "Mom, should we go?" My sister—the most angel-like person in the world—would always answer with the utmost patience, "Yes, sweetie, as soon as the light changes."

I thought this was a curious thing to be asking and a curious way to phrase it. So I thought about it and realized that my nephew wasn’t actually asking a question; his tone of voice when he said this sounded more like a statement than a question. And then I realized that he was mimicking his mother. "Should we go?" was the exact phrase she would use every time it was time to go, every time she could have said, "Let’s go." Whenever the car came to a stop he was thinking, "Let’s go!" but phrased it, "Should we go?" because that’s what he had heard.

This got me to thinking about how we talk to our kids, especially now that I have my own and find myself doing the exact same thing. Almost everything I say to my daughter is a question, even if there isn’t really a question in my mind: "Should we change your diaper now?" (of course we should, it smells!) "Should we take a bath?" (absolutely, it’s almost bedtime) "Who’s cute" (when I’m thinking, man! you’re cute!) "Who’s a good girl?" (when she’s just endured something difficult like sacrament meeting without fussing). I know I’m not the only one who does this; obviously my sister does it too. So does my mom. But is this a family thing or do any of you speak to your children like this?

And if so, why do we do it? My daughter is seven months old, so obviously at this point, I’m not getting any responses to my questions—which, in essence, aren’t really questions; at least, I don’t really need an answer to them. So why don’t I just say, "Let’s change your diaper now," or "Time for a bath"? Obviously, we could the ask the question, why do we talk to our children at all when they can’t talk back, but the answers to that seem fairly obvious (if nothing else, so they learn to talk, right?). So why am I phrasing everything as a question?

Probably for the same reason I’m posing my thoughts on this issue as questions in this post: because questions provoke some kind of response; they assume interaction between people. And nothing is more valuable to me than genuine interaction with my daughter. Her first real smiles were life altering, because they were real responses to me—something I was aching for in those first weeks when she only pooped, peed, slept, and cried. Her laughter in response to something I do is sublime, because it means she sees me, knows me, likes me. And now that she’s able to control her body and movements more, her reaching for my face or sucking on my chin or putting her arms on my chest or neck sends me to heaven, because she’s communicating with me in the ways that are available to her now.

So perhaps my questions antcipate later communication. Perhaps they are my subconscious desire to be talking with, not just to my daughter, my looking forward to a future of conversations. Granted, the questions I’m posing now will only elicit one-word responses when she starts talking. But it’s a start and it is communication.

So how do you talk to your children?

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I refer to almost everyone in the third person, including myself and her: "Here’s Mommy," "Where’s Story?" Any thoughts on why I might do this?


  • Now that you've got me to post a comment to maybe win free things....

    I found that I did this to an extreme - When my daughter got older I was saying "Let's go to time out now, okay?". So one day I decided to make a real effort to not ask her permission for what needs to get done. Instead, I now ask "Do you understand?" as I realized that's what I was really asking, not for her to agree to everything. (I also realized how wishy-woshy of a mom that made me sound like, which is not how I am!)

    However, on your other area, we still refer to things in the third person with the little one, and she said good-bye to activities (not just people) when she was younger.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 11/20/2006 05:45:00 AM  

  • When princess was a baby, I think I fell into this way of talking too. But I soon realized that this way of talking made her think she was in control of every situation. And she's not. SO I started trying to be more consicous and change the questions into statements and only ask her questions that I really wanted her opinion on.

    It gets easier to be concious of your "not-really-a-question" questions when the kids become older and they answer you back.

    "Should we get jammies on so we can go to bed?"


    "Oh Yeah, it's really not a question. THere aren't any options here."

    I do believe in giving children choices but ones that are more age appropriate. "Do you want to wear the bear jammies or the duck jammies tonight?"

    I think talking to you children in questions that aren't really questions can effect the dynamic of the parent-child relationship. Some people are fine with their children having that much control, but it doesn't work for us which is why I really try to think about my questions before asking them.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 11/20/2006 07:40:00 AM  

  • I realized that I stated my opinion in the form of a question a lot when I got married and it drove my husband *crazy*. I also realized I did this because it's how my Mom spoke to me, and to everyone. (My mom is great - I know she doesn't realize she does this.) But even to grown ups she asks, "Wouldn't you like xxx?" implying that you're sort of wrong if you don't, instead of a genuine question "I would like to xxx. Would you?" This didn't seem like much difference to me at first, but it is. It can be manipulative to pretend you're asking a question when you're not - feigning interest in a response when you really just want the person to do what you want. I don't think this is what you're doing with your daughter, but it can be dangerous.

    And like Carrie said, when they start answering "no" to pretty much every question, questions aren't the best way of starting a conversation.
    posted by Blogger Gina at 11/20/2006 08:00:00 AM  

  • I agree with the other comments here as well. I am one who does all that too...

    I still find that I am calling myself "mommy" when I talk to my 5 year old merely because that's how I talk to my 2 year old as well! It actually can get confusing to ME to have to go from 3rd person to 1st person between the two.

    I.e. "mommy is going to go upstairs now ..."
    versus " I am going .."

    I do think that I do the questions for a conversation style communication with my children, and so far I really do only do it when I mean it. And sometimes I do it when I know they will say yes.

    If I know it's something they HAVE and may not want to do, then I won't pose it as a question. In those cases it's sometimes better if I just say less than more. "let's go." (get ready for bed, brush our teeth, etc..)

    I also think giving choices between 2 "yes" options are great. Like my daughter can pick from 2 different outfits for school
    that I already chose. Or letting them pick whether they want carrots or green beans as their veggie at dinner. It gives them a feeling of autonomy and power.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 11/20/2006 12:13:00 PM  

  • i am not a mother yet but i talk to my cat in the same question-phrased manner in which you are describing. i suppose it is a warning sign that i will do the same thing with my future child(ren). i agree with sunny's reasoning that i am doing it as a want/need of interaction (i know my cat will never talk back, but i think he understands and responds sometimes).

    giving 2 "yes" option questions also work well with husbands.
    posted by Anonymous brenbot at 11/20/2006 01:36:00 PM  

  • My sister also uses the two "yes" options technique with her five and three year old. And I've actually heard one of them say, "Neither!" to one of her questions. Not that her kids are the slightest bit contrary--they are, honestly, some of the best behaved children I've ever met. But obviously, kids reach an age/point at which the choices between two things you want them to do aren't really giving them a choice or any kind of autonomy any more. It seems like they'll figure out how to get that autonomy when the time is right. It's so interesting to me.

    I hadn't thought of my questions as a form of manipulation--which obviously they can't really be yet (she doesn't understand a word I'm saying). But I can see how they could turn into manipulation. I wonder what else I do that has that kind of negative potential?
    posted by Blogger sunny at 11/20/2006 04:49:00 PM  

  • Recently while saying the family prayer, I found myself praying for myself in third person, "Please bless Mommy to feel better." It is probably because when I help my three-year-old pray, that's what I do. But still. Hopefully I won't ever do it in public.
    posted by Blogger Keryn at 11/20/2006 05:20:00 PM  

  • My sis in law asked me: "Why does my son always call himself by his first name?"

    I thought she was joking, but I pointed out that she always does it: Mommy is going to have a sandwich does sam want a sandwich?

    She said: Oh yeah.

    I think we don't realize we are doing. We think we are teaching them and we are. Often I will say both...Mommy will be home soon, I'll be home soon.

    I agree with carrie about the control thing. I have seen this before and it is really uncomfortable.

    Another comment on speech. Even though your child is Super cute when they mispronounce words, I think it is a good idea, to repeat it back the correct way, instead of regressing to their way of saying it. My baby is really in this right now. She says HEWO instead of Hello and Meemee instead of movie. I find myself sometimes speaking poopey-speak, but I really try to repeat it back the correct way, because even though her mouth isn't developed enough to pronounce it correctly, I stronlgy believe that her ear is able to hear and learn it the correct way, and one day it will all catch up and she will have good pronunciation.

    I am also extremely anal when it comes to this stuff, so take my advice with a grain of salt, as I know you all ALWAYS do
    posted by Blogger Kage at 11/20/2006 05:28:00 PM  

  • Kage,

    We have a friend whose son would call grapes "drapes". They began to also say drapes and he didn't learn how to properly say grapes. Finally in speech therapy, the therapist said that you should repeat back the correct word so that they eventually learn it correctly. Sometimes, being anal pays off.
    posted by Blogger Elise at 11/20/2006 08:13:00 PM  

  • I have been in the grocery store ALONE, and said to myself... "What does mommy want to get for us to eat?" SCARY.
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 11/20/2006 08:23:00 PM  

  • Interesting stuff....as far as using 3rd person, I think it happens because pronouns are really difficult for young kids to grasp, so parents try to simplify language. I/You/He/She...it is kind of abstract for a child developing language. I have read that kids on the autism spectrum often mix up pronouns for years. It makes sense to use 3rd person with your kids as they are developing language and ease them into pronouns, but I'm no expert. Is Heather O reading this? She would know for sure!
    posted by Blogger Jen at 11/20/2006 09:52:00 PM  

  • Sunny,

    I don't think anyone here thinks that you are using your communication as manipulation. But it can start a habit of communicating through questions that can become manipulative or tip the control balance between parent and child which is why you should definitely be conscious of it even when your baby is young.

    As for the two "yes" choices, you are completely right. As children get older, these kinds of choices no longer serve the same purpose as they did when the child was 2 or 3. That is why the choices need to be appropriate for the age of the child. Now that princess is 4, I let her choose her own school clothes (and I have decided to be okay with whatever she chooses - though she knows she can't wear skirts or boots).

    Oh, and I can't even start to think about the million other things I do that could have negative potential for my children. Too depressing. That is why I should just start saving for their therapy fund.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 11/21/2006 09:08:00 AM  

  • Jen, I think you're right about the pronoun confusion thing. My little sister (not a mother, just a great aunt) related a conversation she had with one of our older sister's boys:

    "Who do you want to say the prayer?" she asked.

    "You!" he said, pointing to her.

    "Me?" she said, pointing to herself.

    "No, you!" he said.

    "Me?" she asked again, pointing to herself.

    "Not me," he said, pointing to himself. "You!" pointing to her.

    I've gotten confused just writing it.

    tftcarrie--thanks for the encouragement. It's all about striking a balance between healthy awareness and necessary ignorance.

    I'd love to hear heather o's opinion on all this if she reads it.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 11/21/2006 07:59:00 PM  

  • This may have been stated, but I am too lazy to read the other posts.

    The Baby Whisperer (whom I love) says that you should speak to your children like people. I like to think of it as you asking you child the question. Starting early to let her know her opinion counts. Now, it doesn't really right now, but it's a good habit to get into and good to help foster independence and thought in your child.
    posted by Anonymous Amy at 12/01/2006 01:32:00 PM  

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