Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Yes Mom"

source
"Of all the practical helps we can offer, this one has undoubtedly the most impact on a child's willingness and ability to comply the first time" (On Becoming Childwise, p. 122).

Does that sound too easy? I think it does. A little too easy. It sounds easy enough that at times I let if fall back in my radar. Despite the easiness of the way, let me assure you that it absolutely does work.

When you give instructions to your child, you want to require him to give you a "yes, mom" (or yes, dad) response. For you, hearing a "yes, mom" lets you know your child heard what you said. If your child doesn't obey, you know it is because he chose disobedience, not that he didn't hear what you said.

For your child, "yes, mom" is your child committing to obey. Years ago, a person's word was completely trustworthy. If someone verbally committed to something, they did it. We have been taught in our modern age to lie, cheat, and steal to get where we want to go. We tell people what they want to hear. If you want a commitment, you need it in writing. But our children haven't learned that yet. They are still pure. We all know that morally, a verbal commitment should be honored as much as a written one.

Of course, your child will have moments where he "yes, moms" and then doesn't follow through. But it really does make a huge difference on the rate of obedience. There is a communication theory that many people have heard about. It is called "self fulfilling prophesy." This theory basically states that if you tell yourself something will happen, it likely will--for better or worse. When your child agrees to obey, he is creating his own self-fulfilling prophecy.

The first time I tried "yes, mom" I knew we had a winner. Why? Because it was so hard for Brayden to say. He didn't want to say "yes, mom." He was avoiding eye contact. He was struggling internally. He tried just nodding. I told him no, I wanted a "yes, Mama." He finally gave it. I knew that he knew if he said "yes, mom" that he would be committing himself.

Starting "Yes, Mom"


  • Sit down in a time of non-conflict and explain the new rules about compliance.
  • When you first start "yes, mom," you need to tell your child to say it. You tell your child "In five minutes, it is time for your nap. Say 'yes, Mama.' " Your child should then say it.
  • Require eye contact when giving instructions. If your child is used to ignoring you, you might need to hold his face in your hand to get that eye contact. Eye contact helps your child focus on instruction. Also, it is a great communication skill for your child to develop.
  • Practice what you preach. If you are going to require your child to respond "yes, mom" when you call his name, you should do the same for him. Like I said, eye contact is a great communication skill. It tells the speaker that you are listening. When your children call to you and talk to you, you should respond with a "Yes, Brayden" and look him in the eyes. I have also read in an article that responding with a "Yes, Brayden" or "Yes, Honey" to your child is a lot more inviting and friendly than a "what." You are more approachable with a "Yes, dear." If you want your children to be kind to you and others, you need to be kind to them.
  • After some time, your child will surprise you by saying "yes, Mom" on his own without any prompting. Be sure to thank him and tell him what a good boy he is to say that without you reminding him.
Resistance to "Yes, Mom"
You can be pretty confident that the day will come that your child refuses to say "yes, mom." Be prepared for how to deal with that so you aren't standing open-mouthed. Brayden quickly learned that when he said "yes, mom," it meant he had to comply. Just last week we were outside and I told him in five minutes it would be time to go in for his nap. I told him to say "Yes, Mama." He responded, "No, Mama." I said, "You don't have the freedom to tell Mommy, "No, Mama." You need to say, "Yes, Mama." He then let out a whimper but said, "Yes, Mama." When the five minutes were up, he went inside, washed up, and got in bed with no problem.
You also will likely have moments when your child says "yes, Mom" but then doesn't follow through. If/when this happens, be sure you have a consequence. "I am sorry you chose to disobey Mommy, now you won't get to play outside after your nap" for example. Be sure you have a consequence fitting for the offense, will mean something to your child, and also that you follow through with that consequence. See this post for more on that:
Tantrums and Discipline: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/02/tantrums.html
In conclusion, don't let the easiness of the way deter you from using "Yes, Mom" with your child. You will be surprised by the results.
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Reader Comments/Thank Yous:
  • heather said...
    I wanted to thank you also for your post on "Yes, Mom" for today. Even though I have such a young child, I think it's a great idea to be thinking in advance on things like this. Thanks!!!
    May 22, 2008 8:52 PM
    Plowmanators said...
    You are welcome Heather! It is a great tool to have on your radar.
    May 23, 2008 4:54 PM
  • Dana said...
    Yes momma is such a wonderful parenting tool! I've found with my son that reminding him in sign language helps me get eye contact. It also keeps me from having to verbally say it so many times each day.
    May 23, 2008 11:18 AM
    Plowmanators said...
    Thanks for your added testament Dana!
    May 23, 2008 4:56 PM
  • Don & Denise Sullivan said...
    I absolutely agree with this. Our 19 month old son can say "mama" but cannot say "yes" yet. So whenever I give him an instruction, I tell him, "Say "Yes Momma"" and he'll look at me and nod his head "yes". When he does this, he almost always complies. If he refuses to nod his head "yes", that earns him a timeout and afterwards, he'll give me the "yes momma" and comply. It has helped him tremendously.
    May 24, 2008 5:47 PM
    Plowmanators said...
    Thanks for your thoughts Denise!
    May 26, 2008 10:07 AM

7 comments:

Emily S said...

This reminds me of a friend I had when I was a kid. She was required to say "yes, mom" all the time. That turned into "yes" to the boyfriend who wanted sex, "yes" to the car dealer who sold her on something she couldn't afford, "yes" to moving in with bad roommates, and more. More than an obedient robot, I want my children to be able to think for themselves.

Becca said...

My LO is 16 months. In the past week, I have started asking him to say "yes" but not yet "yes, mommy." He can say "mommy," but he doesn't put two words together yet, and I don't want to require something he can't do.
The first time we did this, I did ask him to say "yes, mommy." He resisted, just like you describe with Brayden, but he eventually got "yes" out and complied. I took this to meaning that "yes, mommy" might be too hard for him right now.
He still doesn't want to say it all the time, but does. In the past 2 days, he's started smiling when he says it and getting very excited.

anyway, thoughts on this? Do you wait until they can put 2 words together to require the full response?
Thanks!

Plowmanators said...

Emily, that sounds like there were problems there that ran deeper. A simple "yes mom" cannot lead to all of those things in and of itself. It is a logical fallacy to blame it on such.

Plowmanators said...

Becca, I think you are on the right track. Just stick with yes until he can add Mommy. That is great that he is starting to smile with it!

Helena Holden said...

I really like this concept but unfortunately came upon it only now. I have a 2.5 y.o. boy and a 6 mos boy. I tried it with my older son and he totally tried to avoid an eye contact. I tried holding his head to get him to look at me but without a success. He keeps wiggling and closing his eyes just to avoid this.
Do you have any further tips for how to teach an older toddler to say "yes, mommy"?

Valerie Plowman said...

It definitely isn't too late! Start with eye contact and require at least a "yes". Expect resistance whenever you change something up. Be consistent in your reaction and expectations and he will do it. I would require it and not move on until he looks you in the eye. I would have him sit I. A certain spot until he looks you in the eye. He will eventually decide it is worth it to listen.

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