I statements in place of questions

I statements ~ Using I statements in place of questions can often alleviate the perception that there is one right answer. Some people with communication delays do not reply to questions because they dotn't want to be wrong. When you use an I statement to point out what you observe or what your idea is, this can take away that right/wrong element. It can also provide a model of how they could approach the current situation. Some examples include:


  • I see you are feeling frustrated instead of Why are you yelling?

  • It looks like you are trying to find something instead of What are you looking for?

  • I wonder what I could help with instead of Do you need help?

  • I see your sister looks really sad right now instead of Why is your sister crying?

  • I remember that you were playing with that outside yesterday instead of Do you remember where you were when you had it last?

By flipping the language just a little, I have seen that it takes the pressure off of the back and forth in those moments. When I use I statements, I have noticed that clients are more likely to reply with their own I statements. They are more likely to problem solve for themselves and they are more likely to borrow the language that I have modeled. This is not scientific and depends on the client, however it can be a harmless experiment that may work for your interactions too.


Maybe "giving in" is what is needed

Consider that the disregulation caused by sensory needs could be the culprit behind any behavior you see. This means that a child is upset and shuts down because she is hot or hungry or is defiant because he is tired and has to go to the bathroom. If you can "shelve" the behavior and help them regulate first, the behavior will probably go away. Now, this is definitely not going to be true 100% of the time but if you can QUESTION a response that is unexpected rather than REACT to a response that is unexpected, you may help a child to be more regulated or better able to self advocate for what they need.

I almost think of it as a much younger child. I was at a restaurant and overheard the mom of a 2yo do this when her kid was not eating but instead doubling down on a controlling behavior. The mom said, "I think it is time for a nap." We do this with younger children, or preverbal children a little more easily but the exact same thing could account for a lot of the incidents that are happening for older kids with different neurology or physiology.

To problem solve in the moment, I think of the hierarchy of needs, water ~ food ~ sleep ~ bathroom ~ tactile needs ~ emotional disappointment ~ overall understanding of what is going on.

This thinking does require the requesting adult to swallow their original intent a bit. Said differently, asking yourself, "Do I really need hold my ground on this one, or can I work with where my child is coming from?"

It might feel like you are not teaching them what they need to know, or you're not being a good parent because they "should be ______". The other side of that is that if a child is being controlling, he is not actually in a mind and body space to learn anything so your desire to teach him a life lesson is undermined from the get go. He cannot learn when he is disregulated. No one can.

How do I remember to do this in the moment?

** The following list assumes that the actions that are taken in defiance are safe but just not preferred. Safety of a child is of course the first priority at all times.

  • if you find yourself repeating an instruction, stop after the second one is ignored or defied and go through the above list of needs to see if everything is taken care of

  • if you give a direction or make a request and it is ignored or defied, wait 1 minute before saying or doing anything and just do what you need to in that minute to remain calm yourself. A minute is a REALLY long time when you are standing there expecting one thing and getting another so try it out and see how long it feels.

  • BEFORE giving a direction, think about what responses you might get so that you may be less surprised or taken aback by what he comes up with. A quote from Jim Rohn (a motivational speaker) is "Learn to turn frustration into fascination..." I have this from Dr. Tina Bryson and Barbara Avila in conjunction with parenting and teaching children. When she is walking to her room and you are walking to the kitchen after you told her it was lunch time, turn it into a puzzle to solve "why is she going there?" "what can we do in there that we aren’t doing in the kitchen?" "what is she not saying?" "what can I help her with?"

  • Let yourself off the hook if you change your mind and give up on a "fight". He just might not be ready for whatever you asked him to do. He is not going to say, "Guys, I have had a rough day because my play date cancelled and I am feeling sad about my sister going to camp and I am really hot right now, so if you could please go easy on me, I would really appreciate it." But that is exactly what he needs.

  • Give a choice within no choice so that you have already done the work of winnowing down the options of what he can do but he genuinely gets to pick between the ones you picked.

Wh's of doing something or going somewhere

There are some basic universals that all people want to know before they engage in an activity. When these basics are accounted for routinely and followed through with, it can go a long way toward building trust and competence.

1) Where am I going and why? ~ give him specifics about where he is heading, "Let's go to the bathroom so we can brush teeth."

2) What am I doing? What is my job while we are there? ~ give him a role such as "You be the brush holder first and then I will take a turn."

3) What will happen next (after we are done)? ~ let him know the first - then pattern of what will be happening so that he can begin to learn it won't take forever and he will be able to get back to what he wants to do. "First we need to brush teeth. Then you can go back to play in the playroom."

4) How long will it last? ~ give him a framework to think about how long it will last, even if we don't know for sure that he will understand exactly what that means. It is more about the habit and verbal pattern of information. For example, "you brush for 5 and then I will. 5-4-3-2-1 , Great! Now my turn, 5-4-3-2-1. So clean! We are done."

5) Say what you mean AND mean what you say ~ As you are building this routine, you will want to stick to whatever you say, regardless of how it is going. As you are setting the routine for yourself and the child, you will want to resist the urge to "push him" if it is going well. While this is good for getting more teeth brushed in that moment, it undermines your overall goal of having his teeth brushed consistently because you didn’t do what you said you were going to do, and that goes toward him not being able to believe you. Conversely, if it is going really rottenly, try to stick with it and follow through, but make an adjustment next time. For example, if you realize that count of five just never goes well, try to drop it to three and see if that helps.

A teeth brushing interaction could look like:

1)  "Hey Buddy, we are going to the bathroom to brush teeth." Hand extended. Wait for him to take your hand, possibly up to 30 seconds, before gently reaching for his hand and guiding toward bathroom.

2) "You will hold the brush while we count."

3) "First brush teeth, then back to play with lion."

4) "I will count 5 for you and 5 for me. 5-4-3-2-1 and 5-4-3-2-1"

5) "Way to go! You were a good helper with your teeth. You can go find lion. I bet he wants to smell your yummy breath."

When we fill in the blank of those questions ~

Where am I going?

What is my job/role?

How long will it last?

What is happening next?

Everyone feels more comfortable and competent and likely to be successful.

Buy in on every level

Anyone who has interacted with a child, knows the difference in feeling like you are dragging a child along to “Get them” to do the thing you want them to do versus having a willing partner. A willing partner is usually more attentive, more organized, and generally more competent.

One simple way to support buy in from a child, is to wait for them to join you by taking your hand. This can be an exercise in patience as you wait for some kids to processing what you are saying, notice that you are inviting, or switch their mental and physical gears from what they are thinking about to what you are saying and doing. This patience is regularly rewarded when I take the moment or two to help a child accept my invitation, rather than “getting them” to do my idea. In practice, this means that rather than taking him by the wrist to support him to move from point A to point B, I recommend offering your hand to allow him to take it and you can guide him to where you want him to go. This is a subtle difference but if you think about how you would feel if someone took your wrist and led you to the bathroom versus offering a hand, waiting for him to take it, and then guiding him to the bathroom. In the second instance, you have someone who is buying in to the fact that you are guiding him somewhere and if he has given you his hand, in many ways that signals that he is open to what you are about to show, tell, and do with him. If you offer a hand and then wait, it might save some struggle later because you will be going at his pace and letting him DECIDE to join you.