For Parents · Me

Just say OK: Notes from the home laboratory

Just say OK.

No whining, no arguing, no stomping, no screaming, no debating, no wheedling.

It doesn’t work. It never works. Let’s just skip this.

Just say OK, and we can move on.

I am raising two infinitely optimistic boys, apparently. When they disagree with an instruction or a correction, I hear a lot of unnecessary responding. All I need to hear is “OK.”

I realized I needed to come up with a quick, easy-to-understand replacement behaviour when I heard my son roaring “NOOOOH!” indignantly after being told [something completely reasonable.] My first instinct was to do some yelling and ranting, but realistically, this was only modelling the behaviour I’m trying to minimize, so I knew I had to take a different route.

If you’ve known me for a while, you probably know what I did next: I created a way to set the kids up for success. I’ve found that there are a few ingredients that really help:

  1. A calm, simple conversation before the trouble starts
  2. A visual representation of what progress looks like
  3. A way to make learning enjoyable

Here’s what I came up with. I wrote the letters O and K on a piece of paper. I put ten dots on each letter. I circled a dot every time one of the children responded with “OK” when I gave an instruction. Sometimes the kids needed a little reminder (some muttering or raised eyebrows) but it was actually a really useful tool.

Just say OK parenting compliance, cooperation and joy
A low-tech intervention, and a happy result.

This strategy isn’t feasible for a full-time system, but it’s a way to build up a positive learning history with the behaviour you are trying to increase. I gave the kids a little Skittle candy each after each 10 successes, and they didn’t complain when it was over.

I think we might dust this off again every once in a while, just to help the kids experience how much easier life is when they are agreeable.

I want to spend a moment here to emphasize how important this is: if they very rarely say “yes,” then how will they know how smooth and peaceful it is when there is a lack of arguing or ignoring? The short time you spend rewarding this behaviour is just a way to

  1. highlight the importance of cooperation, and to give you a chance to reward it
  2. give them a taste of how good the natural consequences are

I’m writing this on a Sunday night. We played the “OK game” this morning, and we are still feeling the positive effects tonight. When the kids were finished their evening snack, I made sure to pause and say “Ok guys, are you ready?” I could see that they remembered the response that was expected, so when I said “It’s PYJAMA TIME!” they both smiled widely and said “OK” very loudly. It was both weird and wonderful. We got through the rest of the bedtime routine without the usual frustration (distraction and resistance from kids, complaints and threats from parents.)

I think I’ll plan to play this game again tomorrow morning, as a refresher. It’s no coincidence that we tend to have these breakthroughs on a Sunday, I think. Frustration tends to build across a long day, but I’m also more focused and able to think. Nobody is at their best when they are rushing from breakfast to the bus, or hustling from lesson to dinner. If you want some time to sit and reflect, send me a note and we can plan something together.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *