When adults want children to do something—put on coats, take a nap, etc.—they often say, “Let’s put on our coats, okay?” or “It’s time to take our naps now, okay?” That “Okay?” is a bad thing to say. Our lives with children would go better if we could learn to give up this way of talking.
The trouble with this “Okay?” is that it suggests to the children that we are giving them a choice when we really are not. Whatever people may think about how many choices we should give children, children should at least be able to know at any moment whether they have a choice or not. If we too often seem to be offering choices when we really aren’t, children may soon feel that they never have any. They will resent this, and resent even more our not saying clearly what we mean. By giving what we intend as a command and then saying “Okay?” we invite resistance and rebellion. In fact, the only way children can find out whether or not we are offering a real choice is to refuse to do what we ask. It is their way of saying, “Do you really mean it?”
Many adults feel that in saying “Okay?” they are only being courteous. But this is a misunderstanding of courtesy. It is perfectly possible to be firm and courteous while making clear to someone that you are not offering a choice but telling them what you want to happen or is going to happen. When I visit friends, I expect to fit myself into their life and routines, and count on them to tell me what they are. So they say, “We get up at seven o’clock,” or “We are going to have dinner at six-thirty,” or “This afternoon we’re going to this place to do such and such.” They are not asking me whether I approve of these plans, just letting me know that they are the plans. But they are perfectly polite about this.
— John Holt, Teach Your Own