Ask and Tell

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Ask and Tell is a notion that wise parents use often. By wise parents, I don’t just mean “Babywise” parents, but wise parents. It is an age-old trick. I have found that many of the moms I respect most around me, who have very wonderful children, use this tool.

So what is Ask and Tell? Ask and Tell is found in On Becoming Preschool Wise starting on page 179. This is the same idea as training in times of non-conflict. Before you leave your home to go somewhere (church, shopping, out to dinner, etc), you get down on your child’s eye level. You then explain where you are going and what is expected. Explain the rules for this outing.

Over time, your child will come to understand the rules and won’t need the rundown each time. Instead, you can ask. Ask what the rules are for church. You can start with questions like, “Do we run in the church?” As your child continues to get better, you just ask for the list of rules. This works well because people don’t like to be lectured about something they understand well. The five year old does not need the rules spouted off to him when he has been hearing them for the last two years. He will tune out. But if you ask him questions, he will be involved, and he will know that you recognize he has progressed beyond the three year old level of understanding and behavior.

You can also use Ask and Tell for teaching about greeting people. Perhaps you are going to visit a relative you don’t see often and you know your child is a bit shy around new people. You can teach him before you leave that your great aunt will say hello and he needs to say hello back. You can also say that she will likely tell him how cute he is, and that he should reply with gratitude.

Some children will also greatly benefit and need some role-playing. You can tell your child to show you how to walk in the church, or how to shake hands politely, etc.

I have also used it to avoid the meltdown when it is time to leave somewhere fun. Brayden has a hard time leaving places. This problem seems to be the worst the first time we go to the park after winter is over. So I will tell him that we are going to the park, and when it is time to leave, I don’t want any fits or any crying. I know it is fun and he wants to stay forever, but we can’t. I also know he is sad to leave, and that is fine to be sad, but that doesn’t mean he can or should throw a fit. If he can’t leave without throwing a fit, then we won’t be going back. I lay it all out there. It produces the results I want.

As you use this skill, your child will come to understand and employ proper behavior and social courtesies.

I am not always great at utilizing this skill. I often find myself expecting my children to just know how to act in different situations. If you think about it, that is rather silly. Why would a child just know if he hasn’t been taught? The times I remember to do this, things go much more smoothly.

I think I have shared this in the past, but this it illustrates this very well. We have some friends who had no children, but were great with kids. They loved kids and kids loved them. My children enjoyed their attention immensely.

They adopted a little baby boy. We went to visit them the day they came home from the hospital. For some reason, I didn’t really think about the fact that my children would need to act differently than they were used to acting in their home. I knew they need to, but I didn’t realize that they wouldn’t know they needed to.

So we went over and our kid were kind of crazy. They were noisy and they wanted to have the attention they were used to. Of course our friends were new parents and enamored by their precious, long-awaited for baby.

I was shocked at their behavior at first, but as I thought about it, I realized the fault was with me.

We went back a few days later to bring them dinner. They wanted us to eat with them. Before we left, I sat my children down (they were 3.5 and 19 months at the time) and told them the rules. I explained there was a new baby and they needed to be quite and respectful.

They were fabulous! Poor Brayden was afraid to speak above a whisper at first because he didn’t want to disturb the baby. It was a much better experience–and all it took was a few minutes of our time before we left the house. It was as simple as that.

This is something I am adding to my list of things I need to be better at. I have used it and I know it works. I need to make it a part of my habit before we leave the house. Try it! I promise you will like it.


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Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since 2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing at, Today Parenting, and Her View From Home. Read more about Valerie and her family on the About page. Follow her on FacebookPinterest, and Instagram for more tips and helps.

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  1. Andrea
    March 29, 2010 / 5:55 PM

    This is a great post! I am already doing this with my 14 month old. He cries and cries when we leave him in the nursery. He is usually fine after we leave but it seemed to get better when I would get down on his level and say I am going to church and I will be back after you play for a while. I think as he gets older it will work even better. I know part of our problem is separation anxiety so I still want to be sensitive to that.

  2. mandgmom
    March 29, 2010 / 6:55 PM

    I think this will really help with my son. He has a difficult time when it is time to leave a place as well. Just talking with him about this concept in general should help (he's 3). Thank you!

  3. Jennifer
    March 29, 2010 / 8:42 PM

    The few times I have thought to do this, it has worked so well. I need to do it more too. Thanks for the reminder and the "tell" part. My kids aren't old enough to do that yet, but I think it will be great to do that when they are.

  4. Laura
    March 29, 2010 / 9:30 PM

    YES YES YES. I have done this on more than one occasion. It's called respecting our children!! Giving them advance warning so they can prepare their little selves for the inevitable! I think it really gives them confidence, because they have tools and they know what's expected. Thank you for posting about this!!

  5. Kelle
    March 30, 2010 / 6:22 AM

    I do this one as well. Especially with the doctor and church, but also with the grocery store and other places too. I do it in the car on the way somewhere. About 5 minutes before we get somewhere, I turn off the music and we talk about what we are about to do. My 5 and 4 yr olds can spout off the 5 rules and expectations for church now and we don't always go over them anymore, but we will have to start again once my son is older. Right now his only rules are to be quiet and to stay with us on the pew.

  6. Leigh Anne
    March 30, 2010 / 12:07 PM

    This is a great technique! Thanks for the refresher….I need to employ it more often because like you said — it works!!

  7. Dave and Elaine
    March 30, 2010 / 2:28 PM

    Before becoming a mommy 🙂 I was a 4th grade teacher and without really knowing the name for this, I did this ALL the time with my students. It worked wonders. I really believe it is because children thrive on knowing what is expected of them. It brings security. My daughter is 10 months and I know I'll do this with her as well.

  8. Plowmanators
    April 12, 2010 / 8:40 PM

    You are welcome everyone!

  9. Plowmanators
    April 12, 2010 / 8:41 PM

    Laura, I really agre with that–"respecting the children"

  10. Plowmanators
    April 12, 2010 / 8:42 PM

    I wanted to report that since writing this post, I have been really good about using this and it helps SO MUCH! I am loving it.

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