Dialogue questioning

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.

Me: William?
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?
William: No.
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?
William: No.
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.

Me: William?
William: Yes, mommy?
Me: We are eating dinner at a restaurant tonight. How do we behave at restaurants?
William: Good.
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.)
William: No.
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.

Me: William?
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?
William: No.
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.



Filed under first-time obedience, moral training, prevention

4 responses to “Dialogue questioning

  1. Pingback: Wise parenting vs. power parenting « Childwise Chat

  2. Leigh Anne

    Hey Maureen~
    I’ve really enjoyed your blog & passed it along to one of my mommy friends who loves it as well! My son is 22 months, and I’m so ready to begin implementing some of the “older kids” techniques, but we aren’t quite there yet. I’ve really been working on the “eye contact” and “okay” lately. He has been responding fairly well. My question is about restraurant behavior. We’ve made some bad mistakes in the past letting him “be free” in the booth, etc…until the food comes. Then putting him in the high chair when the food comes. We started it when he was small and it has just continued as a bad habit. Now, I don’t know how to train him to stay in the chair the whole time w/o making everyone in the restraurant suffer. The problem @ the restraurants comes in waiting for the food. At home, he sits in his high chair with us and eats fine. We do make him stay in his chair until everyone is done. He signs or says all done when he is done. But between the waiting for the food & paying the check he has to do more waiting than at home. How do I go about training him now that we’ve done the bad way? I know it should start at home, but what do I do at home? Just make him sit in his high chair for a while before we eat? Sorry this is so long…..I’ll stop now & look forward to your response!

  3. Maureen

    Hi Leigh Ann,

    So glad you and your friend like the blog. As for the restaurant behavior, there are several things you can do.

    1. Yes, practice at home. Even have some play time with crayons or some other toy you might be likely to bring to a restaurant.
    2. Make sure you are doing some type of independent play at home every day (playpen time, room time, blanket time). These will help his self control.
    3. After you’ve had sufficient practice at home and are ready to eat out, go to a fast food restaurant or some other loud, kid-friendly place. Work up slowly. At these restaurants, you won’t feel so bad if he misbehaves. Or you can go at lunch time on a weekday when there won’t be many people there. And think about the kind of food served at a particular restaurant. Pizza can take a long time to cook.
    4. Be sure he’s not too hungry or tired when you go. Again, lunch or an early dinner might be a good time to go.
    5. I think it’s totally fine to ask the server for a little bread before your meal comes if it won’t ruin his dinner. The Cheesecake Factory has a kid plate with bananas and bread that they automatically bring for kids. Or bring your own small snack.
    6. I think it’s also fine to ask the server to bring your check right after she brings your food. You don’t want to rush through your dinner in fear that your LO will act up, but it will allow you to get out of there quickly in case he does.
    7. Allow him to have toys while waiting, but don’t bring your entire toy box. Find one or two toys that he hasn’t played with in a while. You might want to also designate them as restaurant toys. Think about toys that keep his attention. When the food comes, the toys should go away. They can come out again when you are waiting for the check.
    8. Don’t feel like you need to entertain him the entire time. I notice that if we keep looking at Lucas expecting there to be a problem or being on edge about it, he will act up. If we just sit back and relax, he will do the same. Show him with your actions how he should behave.
    9. Throughout your practice time and before the real thing, do some non-conflict training by explaining to him what you are doing and why. Don’t underestimate what he is able to understand.

    Good luck and keep me posted on how it goes!


  4. Leigh Anne

    Thanks Maureen for all the suggestions. I will begin to put them into practice. I felt a little hopeless but this gives me some direction. I’m due any day w/ #2, so our restaurant dining may be on hold for a little bit, but I will still work w/ him @ home.
    Thanks again & keep up the great work!
    Leigh Anne

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