Image by Luz via Flickr

‘When’ – One of the best parenting tools ever!

I’ve presented many talks to parents over the past 18 years, both to groups of parents, and also to individuals when doing a home visit. For more information about Skype or home visits, see


Parents often want me to wave a magic wand, and change or ‘fix’ the difficulties they are having in their parenting. I wish such a tool existed! I can’t give you that, but…. I can give you a fabulous parenting tool… the word ‘when’.


Now this will sound incredibly simple, yet it works!

Picture this… (Some of you won’t have to imagine it – because it’s in front of you right now!) … Your 4 year old has spent time playing with building blocks, and now wants you to get the puzzles down from the top shelf. You ask her to put the blocks away and she starts crying that she wants the puzzles now! It’s easy to get into an argument with a 4 year old, but there aren’t usually any winners.


Or, your 2 years old is at the back door wanting to go outside, but with no shoes on. When you ask him to put the shoes on, there’s a tantrum because he wants to go now!


In each of these scenarios, you hold the winning card – the height to enable you to reach both the puzzles and to open the door – you have some thing that the young child wants.


In our tired moments, we often give in, but this just teaches the child that whinging pays off – not the message we want.


The answer for these 2 situations and many more, is the word ‘when’. You say they can have what they want, after xyz is done. Eg “When you pick up the blocks, I will get the puzzles down for you.” or “ When you put your shoes on, Mummy will open the door.”


With practise, the child quickly learns that if they want B, they need to do A first. And, that the quicker they do A, they will get B which is their goal. That’s it – it’s that simple!


Of course, it’s delivered in The Parenting Café’s recommended style of calm and consistent, which we know makes for great parenting! The ‘when’ word is always used in a calm voice, never shouting (otherwise we just model shouting to our children), and, like everything new, it must be repeated consistently, to assist the child to learn the message. In the short term, the child may argue with you (hoping you’ll back down), and this is where calm and consistent is vital.


I can think of many situations where ‘when’ can be used:

When you set the table, we can have dinner”

When you feed the cat, we can go to the park.”

When you’ve brushed your teeth, I will read your story book”

When you speak softly, Daddy will listen.”

When you’ve washed your hands, you can look at the photo books.”


Have fun using the ‘when’ word this week!

Happy Parenting!


— Image by Luz via Flickr