Let's face it: If you had a dollar for every time you wanted your child to do something, paying the bills would be painless. You need him to listen up so you can make it through the day -- and keep your home from becoming a total disaster zone. Yet, like most parents, you probably don't want to be a nag (or a drill sergeant), so you constantly ask your child to cooperate. You figure he'll be more likely to pick up his towel off the bathroom floor or sit down at the dinner table if you come across as friendly rather than bossy. After all, you'll catch more flies with honey, right?
It seems like a reasonable approach, especially since that's the way that we typically talk to adults. "Being polite in our society requires making indirect requests, such as 'Can you pass the salt?'" explains developmental psychologist Linda Acredolo, PhD, a Parents advisor and coauthor of Baby Hearts. "If you interpret this question literally -- as young children always do -- it isn't actually a request for salt, it's a question of whether or not the person is capable of passing the salt." (Of course, you'd never expect your dinner companion to simply answer, "Yes.") So when you ask your child, "Would you like to take a bath now?" he thinks that you're actually offering him the opportunity to say no -- even though you really meant it as a polite way to make a direct command. The result? "You get upset and your child gets upset -- and confused," says Dr. Acredolo.