Help from Mentor Moms, Tips for parenting

A Magic Phrase To Help Children Respond

30 Seconds for Hope:

After instructing children, do you tack on a common query of “Okay?”  You wonder whether they’ve heard you, but unfortunately, the question “Okay?” also means, “Do you want to do this?” To avoid confusing our children, let’s replace “Okay?” with words that actually mean what we say. I replaced it with two words that worked wonders in my household. What are they? Read on!

And Now the Full Story:

 “Time to put your shoes on, buddy! …okay?”

And the tyke yelled, “No!” and sprinted away.

Never mind that his daddy had already given him the five-minute heads up. This child’s candid answer to the question of “Okay?” was “No!” With that one-word rebuttal, my grandson let his dad know that he was not okay with leaving Grammy’s house. He wanted to stay and play with DUPLO®s. And eat more tortilla chips. And play with cousins.

Now the father had a dilemma. And a battle.

To onlookers, it was obvious that the boy wanted to stay because of those good things—and technically, his daddy had asked him what he wanted with the word, “Okay?” To the boy it would appear he was being asked if he was okay with putting shoes on, and he wasn’t okay with that. At least not right now.

We knew the dad’s intended meaning was, “Did you hear me and understand me? Come quickly and do it.” But unfortunately the “Okay?” word has a double meaning. In other situations it can mean, “Is that okay with you? Are you willing for this?”

This can be confusing to a child. Can you imagine being asked if something is okay when actually the other person is telling you what to do? How frustrating!

Hmm… maybe we’ve got a problem here. We habitually pop a word that embraces two very different meanings.

Not long after that getting-shoes-on event, a dear friend hesitantly approached me and very politely asked if I was aware that a word I used a lot could be confusing and frustrating to kids? She had visited our home when I was with grandkids and had observed me interacting with the children. Guess what the word was? Yep. It was…


You see, I had the very same habit as the daddy. Even though I had wondered about it, I didn’t have any solutions, so I would give an instruction to a grandchild and then query, “Okay?” I needed a response to know that they had heard me. I had built this habit over my 35 years of parenting and grandparenting. It was very ingrained and s-o-o-o useful (or so I thought).

But my friend’s observation prompted me to reflect and reconsider. On the one hand, I knew that kids are smart and can catch on to our language use, so even though I had wondered about that tack-on question, I’d not thought of it as a huge deal. On the other hand, how much better would it be to say what I actually meant? Wouldn’t that be much better than asking children a question I didn’t intend for them to answer in its primary meaning? Since I really wanted to ask, “Did you hear me?,” maybe I could switch to words that communicated that. The query of “Okay” didn’t say what I meant. That was true.

Then an epiphany came. I could switch to, “Got it?”

Two syllables. I could spit out those syllables just as fast as the two syllable “Okay?” …and I would be saying what I actually meant. No subtle implication of asking for their approval. I would reserve the “Okay?” for times that I really wanted their input (which in reality was often). When it was time to put on shoes, I just needed to know that they had heard the instructions. “Got it?”

I began the switch. At first the old, habitual word would automatically kick in and I would blurt, “Okay?” But when I heard myself, I would then quickly add, “Got it?”

Much to my surprise, the grandkids often would answer, “Yes.” They had gotten it and were willing to give a thumbs up to got it, even if they didn’t agree or want to do it. They would say yes way more often than when I had asked “Okay?” Amazing.

Over time, with practice and many corrections of myself, I began to develop a new habit of “Got it?” It felt good, not only because I was saying what I actually meant, but also because the children responded more positively. Of course, they might still resist the instruction, but they let me know that they had heard me. They could say “Got it” without implying that they were okay with it. No more fake choices. This new phrase upped our level of honest communication, and for me that was a good thing.  

Now I’m offering these magic words to you, but with a disclaimer and a request. Though this new habit has worked wonders in my own household, my sample size is exceedingly small. It’s like ten (and actually smaller because you can’t count the baby who doesn’t talk). So I need your help. Parents, teachers, grandparents, and babysitters, would you be willing to try out my “Got it?” phrase and let me know how it goes? I would really appreciate that!

Okay? 🙂


For more on helping children learn to listen, click here to read my article at Focus on the Family .


Image courtesy of Urhan TV via

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s