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“Dad, why do kites fly?” “How do cats purr?” “How much longer to grandma’s?”

In part I, ideas were presented about keeping conversations with children relevant, not using abstract ideas with young children who cannot comprehend them, and not using unnecessary words when you are disciplining them.

Playful Conversations

There are times to use as many words as you want. When a child asks a question, it is a wonderful opportunity for a creative, playful conversation. You don’t have to know the answers, they just want to connect.

“How do cats purr?” offers three answers: 1. “I don’t know”—at which point the conversation ends and your child walks away disappointed. 2. “Purring occurs when nerve signals in the voice box cause vibration of the vocal cords while the diaphragm serves as a piston pump, pushing air in and out of the vibrating cords, thus creating a musical hum.” When did you lose interest in the explanation? I glazed over at “diaphragm,” but you can bet a child’s mind wandered at “nerve signals.” 3. A cat purrs when he’s happy. A little machine just starts roaring to life, sending happy messages up to let you know that the cat likes being with you.”

Option 1.—“I don’t know”—ends the conversation. Option 2.—a scientific explanation—ends the conversation, but option 3.—a playful answer—satisfies a child on several levels.

When having playful conversations, use as many words as you want, take the time to connect with your child.

However, when disciplining, don’t say too much. Keep it simple. “Because I said so,” is fine if you don’t have anything better. Children quit listening when you go into long explanations regarding their behavior. Save the Sunday School lesson for another, less intense, moment.

“Don’t” v.s.”Do.”

I realized quickly I could not imagine all the ways my children could to get into trouble. If I had tried to think of every possible “don’t” I’d still miss something.

For example, rather than think of all the “don’ts” that a teen could do late at night, we said, “Do be home by mid-night on weekends,” (school-nights were much earlier). Long after my son was an adult and no longer subject to a curfew, he still took his dates home by 12 and checked in with us for a good-night kiss. (Awe.) He respected the “do.”

 Now for young children, picture this: You are visiting with a friend and your child comes up to you and begins tugging on your leg, demanding your attention. If you say, “don’t bother me right now,” what have they learned? Tugging on mom gets a response.

Instead, take a second, say ‘hi,’ and then give them a do: “here, take this over there and set it down.” They will do what you ask. Then they will be back. This time when they tug, you say, “hi there, here, take these things waaay over there and set them down.”

Every time they come back, you acknowledge them, and give them a “do.”

After awhile, they are going to realize that “Every time I interrupt mommy she gives me something to do.” They are going to figure out that they are better off to go play quietly by themselves. Ideally, at that point, you go give them attention, reinforcing the better choice.


  • Use “dos” not “don’ts.”
  • When disciplining, use few words.
  • Take time for playful conversations.

Next time I’ll address “When does ‘Time-out’ quit being effective?”