Dear Kid Whisperer,
I need a non-sarcastic and non-condescending response to questions that my eight-year-old daughter knows the answers to. This happens all day long. I will be holding a blue plate and she will ask me if the plate is yellow. I will be cooking spaghetti and she will look directly at the food in the pot and ask me what we are having for dinner. She is smart and obviously knows the answers to these questions. It’s not that I don’t give her attention. I give her tons of it. Maybe it’s just because I’m irritable currently, or maybe I’m just tired of the questions, but I am getting so snippy with her and I don’t want to be. -Jolene, Louisville, Kentucky
Thank you for being honest with yourself and all of us about the fact that your kid is annoying you. We live in a culture that, for some reason, is very judgmental of parents who say that they have any feelings besides sugar-coated rainbows of happy thoughts whenever their kids open their mouths.
And thank you for recognizing that this behavior needs to stop. These are not information-seeking questions. Of course, make sure you answer those. The questions that you mention are control and attention-seeking questions. Not answering these questions will not stop your daughter from mastering her plate colors or Italian food identification.
I am going to give you a step-by-step way to deal with this behavior that will get her to stop and will allow you to take care of yourself so you can take care of your kid. It will calm you down so you don’t act sarcastically and lose days off of your own life by getting stressed. Also, it won’t give your daughter the attention and feeling of control over your mood and attention that she is seeking with silly questions.
The goal of this intervention is to be as boring and repetitive as possible, while at the same time, not being condescending or mean.
Kid: Is this thing at the end of my arm a hand or a potato?
Kid Whisperer: (after inhaling, and while exhaling) Ugh. I only answer good questions.
You will only say this once. Not once every day, but once per lifetime. Immediately after you respond in this way, you will use a question to respond to her silly questions. This will be the question that you will ask when she asks silly questions for the rest of her life:
Kid: Is our basement part of Russia?
Kid Whisperer: What kind of questions do I answer?
Notice that we took away “Ugh” for the sake of brevity. If you would like to create an intermediate step, you can keep it before you use your question. You may need to keep saying “Ugh” so that you can stop yourself from saying something you might regret. Take it away when you are sure that you can be calm without it.
This will greatly lessen the number of silly questions, but from what you are describing, they will probably not totally go away just with the use of this intervention. For that, you should go to a consequence. Make sure you add a super-charged eye-rubbing intervention. Here’s what I mean:
Kid: Is Ohio a state or a color?
Kid Whisperer (slowly rubbing his eyes and breathing deeply): Ugh. Silly questions stress me out. I will be asking you to de-stress me later. Don’t let it ruin your day.
Later, you can have your kid clean your car, or do one of the chores that you usually do around the house to help to de-stress you. As a bonus, if you keep rubbing your eyes in this way, your kid will connect it with the consequence, and just rubbing your eyes will eventually stop the behavior!