Discipline Phrase: “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…”

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My children are, generally speaking, quite well-behaved. Yes, they have their moments. Yes, they test their limits. But overall, they are very obedient. We go days between need for any sort of punishment at all. I have been paying attention to our days to see what things I do that seem to help. One tactic I use is the phrase, “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…”

I have to try to explain a bit about my personality. I am very calm. My sense of humor is very dry; when I am making a joke, you really have to know me to be sure if I am serious or joking. I have excellent control over my emotions. I am extremely matter-of-fact. I am logical.

When I discipline my children, I strive to be calm about it. I do not raise my voice or get emotional. My Mom has marveled at my patience–I suppose I wasn’t as patient as the child as I am as the parent :). I do not try to put any guilt upon my children. I don’t hold grudges. I just say it like it is, correct as necessary, and we move on.

For some reason, Brayden (approaching 4) really dislikes going potty. The child can hold it in forever. I can count on one hand the number of times he has had to go potty at a time other than when I told him to. I can actually only think of two times. It seems he views the bathroom as a major inconvenience in his life. This isn’t a problem accident-wise. You just have to go, you know? “I didn’t ask if you wanted to…” started with the potty.

Brayden, you need to go potty.”

“I don’t want to go potty!”

“I didn’t ask if you wanted to; I just said to go.”

End of conversation. He would go. Whenever I instruct him to do something and he feels the need to tell me he doesn’t want to, I remind him that I didn’t ask if he wanted to, just told him that he needed to. When I say this, my emotions are even. I am not frustrated or exacerbated. I am not angry. I am not condescending. I am really quite nonchalant. I am just letting him know the reality of the matter. It is just information to remind him who decides. Mom decides 🙂

A similar phrase I might use interchangeably is “I know you don’t want to, but you need to.” I use this with the same tone, same situations, and same demeanor.

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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 Babywise.life, 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. Christie
    April 14, 2009 / 4:58 PM

    Loved this post! And love that you have a self proclaimed dry sense of humor, I do as well 🙂

  2. Jamie
    April 14, 2009 / 5:31 PM

    I use this phrase all the time when teaching (high school). It gets the point across without having to be the jerk teacher. I think that by having a baby I’m a better teacher, and by being a teacher I’m a better mother.

  3. Val
    April 14, 2009 / 6:11 PM

    I don’t think you can follow Baby Wise and not be a logical person. The whole system was written for logical-type parents… 🙂

  4. Rachel
    April 14, 2009 / 8:15 PM

    Excellent. I’ll have to remember this one!

  5. Maureen
    April 14, 2009 / 8:53 PM

    That’s a good one. I’m ALWAYS saying, “do you understand?” Anytime I give an instruction, I’ll ask him this. And he promptly answers “yes, mommy” 100% of the time! It works wonders.

  6. Jordan and Nikki Brown
    April 14, 2009 / 9:56 PM

    What a great reminder of how to be in control but not controlling!

  7. marci
    April 14, 2009 / 11:15 PM

    I really needed this post today. He didn’t want to do alot!

  8. Becca
    April 15, 2009 / 2:04 AM

    Like Jamie, I used this all the time teaching jr high. That nonchalant response was always the way to go to keep them from even attempting arguing/talking back. Just state the directive and move on; the expection of obedience is naturally implied.

  9. Jeannie Herrmann
    April 15, 2009 / 12:40 PM

    My daughter (8) was just like Brayden when she was young in the sense that she would never initiate going to the bathroom on her own. She actually ended up with some UTIs when she was young. They were due to a combination of holding it and a bladder reflux problem (she was on antibiotics for over a year to prevent UTIs). I didn’t have the luxury of being a SAHM when she was young, so I always had to ask the daycare provider to remind her many times a day to use the bathroom. She had problems in preschool, K, and 1st grade with never using the bathroom during the day at school! I would have to ask her daily if she was using the bathroom at school and troubleshoot the matter with teachers!

  10. Kristin
    April 15, 2009 / 7:47 PM

    I think the magic to your method is staying calm and being matter-of-fact. I am the opposite of you when it comes to control over emotions. I get frustrated so easy and have a hard time staying calm? Any tips on how you do it? I really think this undermines my authority and may be why I’m having such a hard time getting anything to work.

  11. Allison
    April 15, 2009 / 11:18 PM

    I do this too, but I say “You don’t have to want to, you just have to obey.”

  12. C-lee
    April 16, 2009 / 5:57 AM

    I would defenitely remember this one. Thank you for ypur blog once again. You are so good in everything you do. The only thing I’ve ever got right is feedings.I wonder if someone canhelp. See I am one of those babywise moms that expect things to be perfect, but it never is:) Since my LO was 6 weeks old it has been a rollercoaster.I get everything perfect then it falls apart then I get it perfect again then it falls apart again.a view week ago I got thetime for my Lo to go down for her naps perfect, and she actually slept for 1.5 – 2 hours. It went like this for 4 days then all of a sudden 45min naps again constantly. I’ll get a lucky day when she would sleep an hour. In the mornings I put her in her crib and then she falls asleep, after 10min for some reasons she is awake and playing- she would fall asleep after 20-30min after that, Just to wake 45min later.After that I do ajust the time for her to go down for her second nap. But over the past few months I have realized that if her morning nap is a mess her whole day is a mess no matter what I do.I never get anything done at home, ’cause as soon as I start something she is awake again. The only time I get to clean is after 8 in the evening. I feel like I’m missing something. I did try to just go with her short naps, but it backfired, if I do that I have a very, very unhappy baby that cries the whole time. Can anyone please give me some advise – if not just some words of encouragement.

  13. Rachel Stella
    April 25, 2009 / 4:45 AM

    I wish I was able to stay nice and calm all the time. It’s so hard to do! Great advice BTW. I’ll definitely be using this.

  14. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:10 PM

    Thanks Christie!

  15. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:11 PM

    Thanks Jamie! It seems many tips and tricks for teaching work well for parenting, too.

  16. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:11 PM

    Very true, Val. Most of us fall into a certain mold.

  17. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:11 PM

    Thanks Rachel!

  18. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:12 PM

    Good idea Maureen. Do you understand is a good phrase to use.

  19. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:13 PM

    True Nikki. It is tricky to not be controlling!

  20. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:13 PM

    lol Marci. Those days come 🙂

  21. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:14 PM

    Thanks Becca. It is amazing how well this phrase works. I will have to be sure to carry it on up through the teenage years 🙂

  22. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:16 PM

    That is too bad Jeannie! Luckily we haven’t had UTI problems. He will initiate if he really needs to go, but he can sure hold it forever!

  23. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:20 PM

    Kristin,I think that is right; you have to control your emotions. I was less patient when I was pregnant, and I could see an immediate difference in behavior when I was emotional. My disposition is naturally just “chill.” It isn’t a struggle for me (most of the time) to remain calm, so I don’t really have any good tips unfortunately. Try to find things that can help you. Try to remember that your child isn’t necessarily trying to irritate you. Also, children are going to be disobedient. It is part of life. Just expect it and accept it. Adults do things they shouldn’t often, why would children be any different? Good luck!

  24. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:20 PM

    Good one, Allison.

  25. Plowmanators
    May 1, 2009 / 9:25 PM

    C-lee, it takes time to get things down :)One thing to realize is that it is normal to have disruptions. Things are always changing with a baby, so you can’t do things the same way day in and out with a baby. You have to constantly change because baby is. That makes things hard :)I would keep a log of each day for sure if you aren’t already. Track waketime length, what she eats, what she does, nap lengths, etc. Then after some time you can evaluate the days to see if there is a common thread for days that are good and days that are bad. Be particulary vigilant with the first waketime period since the first nap is so importnat. You aren’t alone…a lot of people have nap problems for long periods of time.

  26. C-lee
    May 2, 2009 / 6:25 AM

    Thank you, Well the good news is we have her morning nap down perfect she, now it is just time to figure out the afternoon naps. I wil and she jus got her first tooth 2 days ago. Thank you again for your advise 🙂 I’m actually starting to enjoy figuring her out rather than thinking there is no hope.

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