As infants, our sweet, little babies have one, and only ONE, way to communicate their physical and emotional needs: crying their eyes out until we stop to ask ourselves, "Why the cry?"...

Does he need a new diaper?

Is she hungry?

Does he want to be held?

Is she tired?

Entering into the toddler years, a child's vocabulary grows dramatically as (s)he begins to mimic every word spoken within earshot, resulting in 2- and 3-word phrases, such as "go potty" or "more milk," giving us a little more insight into his/her problem and helping us arrive at an acceptable solution.

With a little more practice, and a lot more exposure to the way humans communicate with one another, that very same child begins to add more and more words to these short statements, forming sentences to articulate his/her needs by saying things like, "Mommy, I have to go potty." or "Daddy, I need more milk."

When this happens, we're quick to encourage our little ones to be polite, reminding them to add a "Please..." on the front end or a "...thank you!" on the back end, making their innocent requests for help sound less like a drill sergeant's orders. 

Rarely, however, do we ever make a conscious effort to teach our little ones how to transition from making statements, like "Mommy, I'm hungry," to asking questions, like "Mommy, can I have something to eat?," without responding to them with something like this - "How do you ask for that the right way?" - implying there is a "right" way to ask. 

The other night, I overheard my husband, Andy say that very phrase to our four-year-old son, Frank who was asking for help opening up a wrapper when I began to wonder, "Why do we say things like that to our children?"

Why do we imply that there is a RIGHT way, and therefore a WRONG way, to ask for help?

The seed of my curiosity was probably planted last October when I started speaking to high school students, sharing my history with depression, anxiety, addiction, the healing power of helping others... and the hazards of helping others more than you're willing to help yourself.

As someone who has struggled to ask for help a million times over - often doing things on my own because it's easier than explaining what I need (and/or easier than fixing someone else's mistake) - I'm beginning to believe that telling our children there's a "RIGHT" way to ask for help might be sending the wrong message, making them less likely to reach out for help when they need it as they age. 

Not knowing whether or not that's true, but assuming any implication of such could be doing more harm than good in the long run, I set out to find an alternative response to my children's requests for help.

The next time you find yourself preparing to ask your child, "What's the right way to ask for help?," try asking, "Could you rephrase that as a question, please?" instead and see what happens.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the ease in which children - even extremely young children - are able to comply with such a request because the problem isn't that our children don't know HOW to ask for what they need, they just need a gentle reminder to rephrase their needs as a question (nicely) instead of sharing it as a statement (which can often sound like they're barking orders at us:).  

Have any other tips to share that'll help children tame their tongues? If so, please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Beth Nowak is a former Kindergarten teacher and mother of two who wanted to make memories with her children while making a difference in her community. Helping other parents do the same, she left the classroom to create Giving Families' Good Mail Challenges... fun and easy, family-friendly giveback activities that can be completed anytime, anywhere using materials readily available in most homes. To learn more and join the family, visit