Dialogue questioning is another technique you can use to train your child in times of non-conflict.
“Parents can also accomplish pre-activity encouragement through dialogue questions. With verbal reminders, you tell the child what is required. With the dialogue method, the child tells you what is expected…. Your children are more apt to take ownership of their behavior when they hear themselves verbalize the rules of conduct and receive praise for the right answers,” (p. 139, Growing Kids God’s Way, 5th edition).
Before you practice dialogue questioning, it is important that your child first understand the basic rules of any situation you may encounter. You cannot question him about it until you have first taught him. The dialogue questioning serves as a reminder before you face a particular situation.
I use dialogue questioning before we head out in public and into situations that could potentially cause trouble. I be sure to get a “yes, mommy” before I start talking. Here’s how it works:
Situation #1: We pull into a parking spot at the grocery store. Rather than getting out of the car, I stop and turn around to look at William. He is strapped in and I have his full attention.
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: We are going to get some food for dinner tonight. Where does your hand belong when we’re in the store?
William: On the cart.
Me: Good. Now is it okay for you to pull the cart while I try to push it?
Me: What happens if you take your hand off the cart or pull it around?
William: You put me in the cart?
Me: Right. Is that what you want?
Me: Good. Now show me how you can be on your best behavior in the store.
Situation #2: We are going to a restaurant for dinner. Again, I stop in the car and talk to him before we enter the restaurant.
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: We are eating dinner at a restaurant tonight. How do we behave at restaurants?
Me: What does that mean? Do we use our inside voice or outside voice?
William: Inside voice.
Me: How do you sit?
William: On my booty. No bouncing.
Me: Do you get out of your chair while we’re at the restaurant? (This is usually not even an issue, but I will ask him anyway.)
Me: Why do we act nicely at a restaurant?
William: To be nice to people.
Me: Right, we want to consider other people. We don’t want to ruin their dinner by distracting them with loud noises or bouncing in our seats.
Situation #3: The park we go to frequently has a play structure surrounded by wood chips. Outside that area is a large forest and a wide grassy area. William is often tempted to follow other kids into the forest. As we pull up to the park, usually on foot, I will stop and ask a few questions.
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: Where do you need to stay when we’re at the park?
William: In the wood chips.
Me: Right. Is it okay to go in the forest?
Me: What happens when you go into the forest?
William: We go home.
Me: Right. Why do you need to stay in the wood chips?
William: Because I could get dirty and get lost.
Me: Right. I have to stay here with Lucas, and I can’t see you when you’re in the forest. I don’t want to lose you.
So as you can see, he clearly knows the rules. He knows what I expect of him in every situation. If he ever forgets the answer, I will just answer for him. I also make sure I have his complete attention, with eye contact, throughout the conversation. Sometimes he’ll surprise me by giving an answer I hadn’t thought of before. Or he’ll give a totally off-the-wall answer that cracks me up. It can be entertaining for sure.
You can practice dialogue questioning with your non-verbal toddler as well. If he can nod or shake his head to say yes or no, ask him questions that have a yes or no answer. If he’s not quite there yet, you can still do this and just answer your questions yourself. You might feel a little silly doing so, but your child will pay more attention than if you simply give a lecture about the behaviors you expect from him.
With older children (maybe over 5) be careful when using this technique. Your child will reach an age where he is too old for this technique. To an older child, you will come across as condescending.
So add dialogue questioning to your list of techniques to use when teaching your child at a time of non-conflict. It’s a very useful tool and will prevent many sources of frustration for the whole family.