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Okay to say okay?

Okay to say okay?

Published: April 29, 2024

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As parents, there are so many things we worry about. Are they eating healthy foods? Are they having too much screen time? Am I preparing them for the challenges that life will inevitably throw their way? 

These big questions can linger — and they’re not easy to answer. That’s why it’s nice to have an easy win sometimes. Something small. Something that’s not necessarily going to change the world, but is super easy to do. So, here it is: stop ending every request with, “okay?” 

You end a request with OKAY?

We’ve all done it. (Some of us do it constantly.) You’re telling your kid to do something, and you end the statement with that all too familiar, “okay?” 

“Pick up your toys please, okay?” 

“It’s time to turn off the computer and come to dinner, okay?” 

“We’re going to stay at the playground 5 more minutes and then we have to go home, okay?”

But have you ever thought about what that seemingly innocent “okay” means? 

Okay, question mark, indicates that you’re asking someone if they’re okay with what you’ve just said. In other words, you’re telling your kid to do (or not do) something. And then you’re asking if your kid is okay with what you’ve just said.

Your kid responds, not okay!

Your kid’s response could easily be: No, it’s not okay.

I’m not going to pick up my toys, 

I’m not interested in turning the computer off to come to dinner.

I don’t want to leave the playground in 5 minutes.

Father holding kids in field

And you know what? They’d be perfectly justified in responding that way because you gave them the option of choosing whether they were okay with it or not. And they can legitimately choose to say, “no, not okay!”

Instead, why not make it clear when you’re giving them the autonomy to choose versus when you’re calling on your authority as a parent. The good news is that this is a slight, very easy adjustment. 

What are you trying to say with okay?

Consider this: By saying “okay” what are you really trying to do? Are you asking for confirmation that they’ve heard you? In that case, “did you hear me?” does the trick.

Are you testing for understanding? How about a simple, “understand?” or “got it?” 

Looking for approval? Well, my first question would be, approval of what? It’s okay to feel strength in your role as a parent to make decisions, set boundaries, and direct behavior. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that respectful parenting means letting go of your authority as a parent. Remember that kids need both LOTS of love and validation. But they ALSO need firm boundaries. 

So, in short, you don’t need your kids’ approval. Unless of course, you’re actually asking your kid to participate in the decision making process. And that’s totally fine, as long as you’re fine with them answering no. Sometimes there’s room for that. Maybe you don’t really need to leave the playground in 5 minutes. In that case, though, it might be more clear to say something like, “I was thinking of leaving in 5 minutes, would you be ready to leave then? If you’re having a great time, I’m also okay if we stay a bit longer.” 

Parent and child hand in hand.

Are you looking for connection, which in this case probably really means cooperation? This one is a bit harder if you’re asking your kid to do (or stop doing) something they’d rather not do (or stop doing). But, assuming that you’re not actually willing to give them a choice to participate in this decision, it’s more to the point to just make sure they’ve heard you and understand you mean business. You can still empathize: “I know you’re having fun, but we need to leave the playground in 5 minutes.” You can even explain why: “Because we have to go home and start making dinner.” That doesn’t mean they’ll like it, or be “okay” with it. But you should definitely try your best to follow through! 

Words matter

Ultimately, words do matter. And when we create habits, or patterns, we start to send meaning and messages with those words. By asking “okay?” when we’re really not interested in what are kids think or feel about what we’ve just said, we may create some confusion. We may give the impression that kids have a voice in something when they don’t really get a say. With a simple change of wording, you can still check in. But you can maintain your authority as the parent and avoid seemingly turning the decision making power for that request over to your kid.

Easy parenting win

Will you ruin your kids if you continue asking them “okay”? Probably not. Are you doing the whole parenting thing “wrong” if you find yourself saying “okay?” a lot? Definitely not. But if you’re looking for an easy win — a super simple way to help make your communication and relationship with your kids a little clearer — this is a way to to start. So, consider it and give it a shot with your kid, okay? 😉