Utilizing “Ask and Tell” to Get Your Kids to Obey in Public

This powerful parenting skill can help you prepare your child for great behavior in public. Set your child and yourself up for success when you go anywhere from the park to the hairdresser!

Mom talking to daughter at eye level

Ask and Tell is a notion that wise parents use often. It is an age-old trick. I have found that many of the moms I respect most around me, who have very well-behaved children, use this tool.

Ask and Tell really sets your child up for success in behaving as he or she should, which sets you up for success as a parent. It helps make your outings much more relaxed and enjoyable. 

Ask and Tell Explained

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. You explain the rules for this outing. 

Once you have explained things to you child, you ask your child to tell you the expectations in his own terms. This helps you ensure your child truly understands the expectations.

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 find role-playing to work really well in the days leading up to something that might make the child nervous. One example is the dentist.

“We get to go to the dentist next Tuesday! Sometimes the dentist can seem a little scary. Let’s go over what will happen and what you will need to do.” You then walk your child through what he will be asked to do and how you expect him to respond when he is asked. You can have him lie down and open his mouth while you brush his teeth. It helps your child mentally prepare for the event.

Read: Dentist Tips for Kids

I am not always great at utilizing this skill of ask and tell. 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 ask and tell, things go much more smoothly.

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Benefits of Using Ask and Tell

As you utilize this skill in your parenting, you will see many benefits. Your children will behave better when you go places. You will have set clear expectations and your kids will demonstrate an understanding before being expected to actually behave that way. So you will feel more confident and comfortable taking your kids out.

This will cut down on conflict with your kids. Your children will be scolded less often.

You will also be able to be more consistent as a parent, which leads to better behavior all around. When you know your child knows the rules and boundaries, you can’t say, “Well, he probably didn’t realize he couldn’t do that” or “Maybe he forgot since the last time we were here that he can’t do that”.

You will have set clear boundaries and you will have made sure your kids understood those rules and boundaries. You will have already established your expectations. Then when the child crosses the line (because it will happen at times), you will be able to respond with a consequence of some sort, which will reinforce and teach your child that it is important to follow rules. This helps your child behave better in the long run.

Read: Discipline 101: The Basics of Correcting Children

Ask and Tell As Your Child Ages

Over time, your child will come to understand the rules and won’t need the full official rundown each time. Instead, you can ask for your child to show what she knows.

Ask what the rules are for church. You can start with simple questions like, “Do we run in the church?”

As your child continues to get older and more familiar with the rules, you just ask for the list of rules. This works well because people don’t like to be lectured about something they understand well. You can even just ask in the car in the parking lot before you exit the car. 

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. “What are our rules at the park?”

As your children get older and have shown they get the rules, a simple, “We are headed to church now. I know you know the expectations for church behavior very well. Stay true to that today.” 

As you give instructions, always remember to look for a “yes mom” in return to verify your child heard and understood.

Read: How To Get Your Child to Obey With a Simple “Yes Mom”

Ask and Tell for Manners

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 a thank you.

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Real-Life Example

I have also used ask and tell to avoid the meltdown when it is time to leave somewhere fun. Brayden had a hard time leaving places when he was young. This problem seemed to be the worst the first time we went to the park after winter was over.

So I would tell him “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 you want to stay forever, but we can’t. I also know you are sad to leave, and that is fine to be sad, but that doesn’t mean you can or should throw a fit. If you can’t leave without throwing a fit, then we won’t be going back.” I put it all out there and it produced the results I wanted.

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

Here is a story to illustrate. We had some friends who had no children but were great with kids. They loved kids and kids loved them. My children enjoyed their attention immensely.

The day came that 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 kids 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 quiet 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.

Read: How to Prepare Your Child for Great Behavior in Public


Ask and Tell is a powerful parenting tool. I have used it and I know it works. When you make it a habit before you leave the house or before you exit the car, you will find your outings go so much smoother. Try it! I promise you will like it.


This article was first published on March 29, 20110

10 thoughts on “Utilizing “Ask and Tell” to Get Your Kids to Obey in Public”

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

  7. 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. 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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