Ever Heard of “Okay” Sensitivity?

“Give your sister a turn, okay?”

“It’s time to get ready for bed, okay?”

“You can say those things out loud to your teacher, okay?”

Do you find yourself speaking with “okay” questions?

diane sitting on steps with three kidsHow often do parents end their sentences with the question, “Okay?” when they are informing their children of expectations, making a demand or a request?

As someone who can put “Okay Sensitive” on my parenting resume, I find myself wincing when parents misuse this little word when interacting with their children.

“It’s time to brush your teeth, okay?”

“Don’t pick your nose in front of people, okay?”

Many years ago I learned from one of my mentors, Dr. Mel Silberman, that when parents end a sentence with “Okay,” they automatically diminish their parental authority. His classic book on effective discipline, called Confident Parenting, provides specific skills for claiming one’s power as a parent.

But what about using “Okay?”

What parents often are meaning with their “okay” is: “Do you understand?” or “Do you have any questions about this?”

For children the interpretation can be, “I have a choice; I can decide if I want to do this.” They believe that when a parent says, “Okay” they now have permission to say, “No, it’s not okay and therefore I don’t have to do it.”

There are times when we use “Okay” and are in fact asking if something is okay with that child.


  • “If you need to take a break from working on that big homework project, you can let me know, okay?”
  • “You can decide not to go to Shelley’s party if you are worried about who else is coming, okay?”

How to break the “okay” habit.

When you are not inviting a child to make a decision, to have the power to reject or accept something, drop the “Okay” word and end the sentence with a firm and confident tone of voice, “It’s time to get into the car to go home,” or “Put your cell phone away during dinner.” With some practice, it will become a new and useful tool.

If you are still pulled to check with them, then add the clearer message, “Do you understand?” Or “Do you have any questions?” …if you want to invite some kind of exchange.

Don’t send the message that there are options when there really aren’t any.

Okay? Oops, no…Are you now clear about this?

Invitation for Reflection

  1. Have you ever stopped to notice how often you end your sentences with “Okay?” when you don’t intend to give any options to your child? Are you clearer about why your child might assume they have the right and power to argue with you when you ask “Okay?”
  2. Notice the differences in your child’s responses if you drop the “okay” from your statements. Notice too how much more confident you can appear and feel when you make your sentences more definite.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, LGI