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My brother and I often have chats about parenting our kids and teaching our students (I am a teacher/therapist and he is a principal).  We both agree that there is one word you should try to avoid using when your discipline your kids… I heard it again today.

I was in the car, driving to get ice cream to make ice cream bread for the kids (a special treat!) and we were listening to my favorite family radio station when the host of the radio show gave the same advice…

“There is one word you should never say when disciplining your child...”, he said.

1 word

So… what is the word?


Yep- the word is Okay.

Easy enough, right?  I use it… oh… all day long.  “Grab the dish, OK?”  “Pick up your shoes, Ok?”
There is a reason to why my professor, the parenting books that I read and the parenting expert on the radio show all said that should never use the word OK when you are discipling your kids, or giving them directions… It confuses your child.

Before you read on… please know that I am not sharing this with you so that you (or I) can take choices away from our kids or be demanding.  I am telling you this because when I heard it, I thought about it… really thought about it… and I realized that it was true.  I was essentially giving our kids the option to say NO.  When they said NO, I was upset that they didn’t listen.  It isn’t fair to them.

When we say “Ok?”, we are really asking a question and giving them the option of saying Yes or No to our question.  When they say NO, we raise our voices or get upset that they said No. They don’t understand that it isn’t actually a question- remember that most kids don’t even understand sarcasm until they are 10 years old, so they are truly confused by this.

When the kids say “No”, most parents, like me, would say: “Well, it isn’t a request.  I’m telling you to go make you bed.”  … but to be fair…  it certainly sounds like a request, doesn’t it? 

The word “Okay” takes the “authority” out of what you are saying.   You are teaching your children that when you give directions, they have the choice if they want to follow them or not.   Now, while I do want our kids to have choices (and we give them many throughout the day), but I also want to raise children that are respectful and responsible and do what we ask.  I want them to help out around the house and listen when I am talking to them.   I want our kids to grow into responsible adults.

I only have 18 years with them before I let them loose… into the world, with only the roots and wings that I have given them.

becky & jack
I want to use these years to teach them with love and understanding, and to avoid frustration.   When our children don’t listen, it causes us to lose our patience and become impatient with our children.   I make it a mission to give my kids happy memories for when they are grown and yelling at them is not one of those.   Teaching them simple things like when an adult tells you something, you listen, is just one lesson that I will teach them that will help them and help me.   Using the word OK diminishes this.

Let me give you a few examples:
“Please put your tablet away and clean your room.”
“Please put your tablet away and clean your room, OK?

Do you see how adding Ok at the end takes it from a command to a question.  You are essentially giving your kids the right to choose not to do what you are asking.   They are given a choice, instead of a direction.  There are certain situations where you need your children to do as they are told and this is a great teaching tool.

When I taught second grade, I made the mistake of asking my students to put their books away before we started a new activity.

Here is what it looked like… “Ok, friends… it is time to clean up.  Put your books away for me, ok?  Thanks!”       Do you want to guess how long it took for them to do this?  Quite a while!  In my class, I had a 2 minute transition time (meaning it should take less than two minutes for our class to transition from one subject or activity to the next).  We would race ourselves to beat this two minutes! (You would not believe the amount of school day that is wasted on transitions!)
Back to the story:  Giving them the direction as a question and not a command added to that transition time and to them not doing as I had asked.  I had to ask multiple times, before it hit me that I was allowing them the opportunity to choose if they put their books away or not.

This is the same situation when you ask them a question.
~~~”Clean up your dish and put it in the dishwasher, please.”   It is clear what I need my child to do and I am still asking in a polite way.
~~~”Would you please clean up your dish and put it in the dishwasher?   Now I am giving my child the chance to tell me no or to say “Not right now, Mom”  or “Can you do it, mom?”
This will lead to nagging them to do chores and eventually, impatience on my behalf, which isn’t fair to my kids, because I led them to respond this way.

I love to give our kids choices, but sometimes, they need to understand that a command is a command and it needs to be done.   Give it a try today.  Try to NOT say “OK” or give directions in the form of a question.   You might find your kids arguing less and helping out more. ♥

If you want more advice, I highly recommend the book Boundaries for Kids. 

Good luck!
Becky 🙂

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Ps- If you liked that post, I think you’ll like these ones: 

chores by age

kids not listening? try this

stop yelling & the kids will start to LISTEN

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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  1. I completely understand the concept being discussed in this article, but I think the ‘ok’ is often used to make sure the child understands what you want them to do.

    I tell my children to complete a task and, especially if it involves a few steps, I always add “Do you understand?”

    1. I agree totally. When I say ok, it’s not to ask them if they want to. It’s to make sure they understand what they are supposed to do.

  2. Hi,

    I am a grandmother and mother for many years and also have worked with children for over 40 plus yrs. I loved reading this short article, for two reasons…..One, being that you were giving your child a command and it was not up for debate, the other was that you realized you were to prepare your child for the real world one day! Hats off to you, as many parents I run into, let the child to control the home environment, and do not take active responsibility in training the child! Thank you for sharing!

  3. My 8yr old is very smart, and sometimes fresh. If I’m not careful about how I say or word instructions, she will come right out and ask “Are you asking me to do it or telling me to do it? Because if your asking me, I can choose not to do it.” She isn’t trying to be disrespectful, and when I say,” no, cleaning your room is not a choice, I need you to go clean your room” she will go do it.
    So, with all that being said, I completely agree with this article!

  4. I’m not sure if I say “OK” when giving commands to my girls, but I will definitely be mindful not to do it!

  5. Curiously I parent the opposite to the suggestions. Giving my children lots of choice and I don’t discipline them, I don’t reward or punish, nor are there ‘logical consequences” for any of there actions.

    Guess what happens when I ask with choice “how about helping with the dishes?” generally 4 of the kids will jump up and organise themselves to get it done, sometimes the 3 yo will decide to join in too. Perhaps the odd occasion where they or one of them chooses something else. Which just opens a doorway for more connection with that child. The more respect I give the more respect, connection, cooperation and contribution my children naturally gravitate to ….

    It is interesting, I think there are other things going on in the way adults relate to children when we are wanting more respect, cooperation and harmony in the family. Different things work for different families.

    I can just guess that my children would answer back with a question, if I gave directions without any choice. They would probably ask “Is that a request or a demand?” hehehhe …. maybe I will try it out today as an experiment,



    1. I’m more in line with commenter Brett. And really, that’s the ONE word you shouldn’t say? Also the examples didn’t seem to be what I would consider “disciplining.”

      I say “okay” quite a bit to my kids!

  6. I almost NEVER command my kids to do anything. OK, I almost always do haha. But I try not to, they are not robots who were put on this earth to serve me. I want them to understand the importance of doing chores, and feel like they are a PART of the household they are cleaning. So, for the price of 1-5 times out of 100, them CHOOSING not to help clean, the other 95-99 times they happily and enthusiastically help. Also, I say ok, at the end of a request SO that I DO turn it into a question and therefore ELICIT a response; make sure they heard me, understand etc.

  7. I try to say “do you understand?” because I want them to complete the task I actually asked them to do not something they thought I said. I also say “ I need your eyes.” And they know to look at me which always helps with communication 😀