It’s a simple word. It’s universal and is used in many different languages. It’s casual and comfortable. But I recommend you remove it from your and your child’s vocabulary. Here’s why.

Don’t use “okay” when giving an instruction
There are two problems with a parent using the word “okay”. First, it is often used at the end of an instruction, which turns the instruction into a request.

Instruction: Evan, clean up your room.
Request: Evan, clean up your room, okay?

Instruction: Sophia, mommy needs you to wash your hands before dinner.
Request: Sophia, wash your hands for mommy, okay?

If you really want your child to respect your authority and obey your instructions, you must not phrase them in the form of a question. When a child hears your inflection go up or hears that “okay” at the end of an instruction, he truly thinks you are asking him whether he agrees or not. He thinks he has the option to say no. Don’t give him that option.

You will also want to be cautious when saying “please” when you give an instruction. It is certainly polite and you want to model polite speech for your child, but you need to be sure you use an authoritative tone when you use the word.

Good: Evan, please put your toys away.
Bad: Evan, put your toys away, please?

Good: Sophia, please share your ice cream with your brother.
Bad: Sophia, share your ice cream with your brother, please?

If you’re not sure whether you sound authoritative when using “please,” don’t use it when giving an instruction. Model polite speech for him at other times of the day. Save it for later when you ask a simple request like pass the salt. Or if you do honestly have a request (not an instruction) for your child, say “please” then.

Don’t use “okay” when answering your child
Here is another time when you will not want to use the word “okay.” Whether your child asks you for a glass of milk or wants to watch TV, you are far better off saying “yes” or “yes, you may” than “okay.” In these cases, the word “okay” can have an ambiguous tone. Your “okay” could sound like, “alright, I don’t really want to agree, but you’ve convinced me.” You never want your child to believe he has the power to convince you to do something you don’t want to do.

You also want to avoid using “okay” in this instance because you want to model polite speech for your child. You want your child to respond to you with a “yes, mommy” or “yes, daddy” so give him the same courtesy. Here’s how it works in my house:

William: “Mommy?”
Me: “Yes, William?”
William: “Can I watch TV now?”
Me: “Yes, you may. Go find the remote and I will turn it on for you.”

It does not sound like this:

William: “Mommy?”
Me: “Huh?”
William: “Can I watch TV now?”
Me: “Okay.”

Do you see how the first example is more polite? It is also more authoritative and respectful.

Don’t allow your child to use “okay”
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, you will want your child to respond to you with a “yes, mommy.” He will do so in two instances: 1) when you first call his name, and 2) after you give an instruction to show he will comply. You should not allow an “okay” in either case.

You should also discourage the use of “okay” when you are having a general conversation. If you ask him how school went or how he feels about a particular situation, he shouldn’t reply with “okay.” You should require him to think it over and reply with a complete answer. When we answer someone with an “okay” we are telling them we don’t value the question and don’t want to put any effort or thought into our answer. Now, if your child says he doesn’t feel like talking about a particular subject right then and tells you why, you may allow that. But don’t allow him to brush you off by answering your questions with an “okay.”

It might take constant effort on your part to remove the word “okay” from your vocabulary, but it will be well worth the effort. After a week or two, it will become second nature.



Filed under first-time obedience, parenting

6 responses to ““Okay?”

  1. Atara

    Oh well said! I heard a Mom say to her child yesterday regarding practicing the piano, “So we are going to practice this week, right?” There are many ways we as parents can slip into “Okay?”

  2. So true! It’s really not a fair way to state something either. If you are trying to ask a request but the child thinks it is a suggestions and then you get upset at your child for not following your instruction or even punish him it simply results in a confused and wrongfully accused child. I’ve been working at not saying okay for months now and I’m getting better but I still slip up. I’m glad I started working on it when my son was a baby rather than a teenager though!

  3. Maureen

    Another trap is the “why don’t you…”. As in, “why don’t you go upstairs and play” or “why don’t you get the remote for daddy.” These are definitely suggestions. If you want your child to do something, instruct them, don’t suggest. It’s too subtle for young kids who often see things in black and white.

  4. Lisa Lundy

    This is so true! I catch myself saying this all the time. I am so glad you brought it to light for me!!! thank you for your blog!

  5. I tend to not correct my kids saying this if they have a good attitude and get right to it.

    so, if it’s a big smiley, ” Okay!!” ( with pleasant and excited voice), I usually let it pass.

    However, I will start working on the “yes Mommy” again as I am alone with kids in the house again.

    My husband is rather impatient and if they don’t answer immediately ” Yes, Mama.” He comes apart and yells as a drill instructor!

    All I know is to role model this for him, but I don’t know how long to wait for the “yes, Mama” and what if they do not respond timely?

  6. Maureen

    Jenny, it’s hard to say how long you should wait. One thing the Ezzos tell us is to not exasperate our kids. So if they are 5 minutes from finishing a TV show, you don’t choose that time to call their names. And you have to ask yourself if they are challenging your authority or whether it’s just childishness and they do intend to obey. I’d say 99% of the time, it’s the latter. As for your husband, yes, model behavior for him. And perhaps ask him to count silently to ten after he calls their name. Then if they reply before he gets to ten, he can be pleasantly surprised.

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