It was a playful, sunny afternoon at our house. We had been playing for a while, pulling toys out of the toy bins, moving from one activity to the other. As I looked around, it looked like a bomb went off. I has having trouble walking around. There were toys EVERYWHERE.

Sick of tidying up constantly, I’m trying to get my 3 year old to start doing it herself. Sometimes we make it a game. Sometimes she wants to. Sometimes she doesn’t.

I suggested “It’s time to tidy up.” No, she didn’t want to do that. I sang my tidy up song. “It’s time to tidy up. It’s time to tidy up. Hi ho the dario it’s time to tidy up.” Let’s keep playing. “Do you want to tidy up together?” You tidy up Mommy.

I became frustrated. The place was a disaster and quite frankly, it was stressing me out. Even she was having trouble walking around. And, it’s not my job to tidy up after her. She’s old enough to help.

I remembered something I had learned recently during my Positive Discipline training about the difference between asking and telling. I formed a new strategy.

I asked her “What can we do so we aren’t tripping on the toys?” She paused before shouting Tidy up Mommy! And she started to put toys into bins.

Quite frankly I was amazed. Amazed that a simple change in approach had such a drastic effect. That a seemingly awkward question could yield a drastically different outcome. I had the realization that she hadn’t been resisting cleaning up. She was resisting being told what to do.

Telling creates physiological tension in the body and signals the brain to resist.

Asking, on the other hand, creates physiological relaxation and sends a message to the brain to search for an answer.

Telling = resistance

Asking = solution

Asking helps your child feel capable as they search for an answer. It shifts the control and responsibility to them. They feel more inspired to contribute because they feel included in the decision making and are coming up with the solution themselves. It helps build life skills.

Since learning this, I’ve become aware of how much I’m telling my kids what to do. I thought I had been doing great job of offering choices but it turns out I’m telling them what to do more often than not.

I’m trying to shift this. Rather than telling my preschooler to take off her shoes I ask her “What’s the first thing we do when we get in the house?” Rather than telling her to put her coat on I ask her “What do we need to put on so we aren’t cold outside?”

Try asking. It works.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes.