08/11/2014 12:59 pm ET

Need Kids to Follow Instructions? Don't Ask. Tell.

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A year ago, I committed what is known as a “mom fail” (basically any false move committed during the act of mothering). Preparing my then-2½-year-old son to go out in the morning for a play date, I asked him, “Do you want to go to H.’s house?” Emphatically, he said no. “Well, we have plans; he’s expecting us,” I amended lamely. My son burst into tears, and no matter how I tried to spin it, he was adamant. Maybe he was tired; maybe the dark, cloudy morning visible from our windows was too uninviting. Whatever the case, I was now in the awkward position of having to drag him, kicking and screaming, down four flights of stairs (we lived in a walk-up) while also toting my younger boy, then an infant. So I canceled the play date (thus committing a “friendship fail,” too, all in one morning).

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