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:
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: “Can I watch TV now?”
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.