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For Parents : Discipline

Why “Because I Said So” Doesn’t Cut It

Age Groups: Toddlers, Early Childhood

The parenting catchphrase “because I said so” is so ingrained in our culture it launched a feature film by the same name.

But what is this fallback phrase doing for kids? Unfortunately, not much. “Because I said so” is a fast, easy way to end a conversation, but as for teaching kids reasoning and decision-making skills, it leaves much to be desired.

How can you respond to your child’s “why,” more effectively, what are the benefits that come from taking the time to share your reasoning and logic? Read on!

Teaching Good Decision-Making

One of the best ways you can prepare your child for success in life is teaching them how to make good decisions. “Because I said so” circumvents a great opportunity for you to explain how and why you arrived at a decision--instead of insisting that the decision be honored on the basis of authority alone.

Part of growing up is learning how to process and weigh different options, evaluate situations, and determine the best way to proceed. That’s a tall order! Next time your child asks why, think of it as a request for information rather than a questioning of your judgment as a parent (even though it can feel that way sometimes).  

Explaining without Negotiating

Is eliminating “because I said so” from your parenting repertoire an open invitation to constant negotiation with your child?

No!

Explaining the reasoning behind a decision and the way that you came to the decision doesn’t mean that the decision is up for negotiation. When you reach a decision that’s disappointing to your child, he or she will almost certainly ask why. Usually, this doesn’t stem from belligerence, though the child may be genuinely disappointed or upset. For the most part, when children ask why, it’s because they genuinely don’t see the harm, danger, or inconvenience of their request. Honor your child’s question and share your reasons, concerns, doubts, and the basis for your response. While they may still be disappointed, they’ll have learned a valuable lesson in decision making!

Teaching Integrity

Another negative consequence of “Because I said so” is the message it sends your child about integrity. If the main reason something isn’t allowed is because you, the adult, are forbidding it, what happens when you aren’t around to forbid it? “Because I said so” teaches a child to think in terms of what you will allow versus will not allow--rather than keeping the focus on the reasoning and explanation behind the decision. Instead of simply saying “no,” take the time to tell your child the reasoning behind your answer, to help them develop the skills and internal compass to make similar decisions when you’re not around.  

If your child asks “why,” try returning the question and ask them, “Why do you think I said no?” This starts the kids to thinking about a situation from your point of view (admittedly, they may say “Because you’re mean…” but this will be a short term problem). Try something like…

Child: “Mom, can I play outside?

Mom: “I don’t think so right now.”

Child: “Why not?”

Mom: Well, what are we doing right now?

Child: Getting ready for bed…

Mom: Should we play outside when it’s time for bed?

You get the picture. Show your child why you said no. With teens it can be similar.

ADVICE: Share your concerns in a way that does NOT suggest a lack of trust on your part! “You can’t go outside because I can’t watch you,” is a perfectly valid reason to an adult. To a child, however, it means, “I don’t trust you.”

Lasting Positive Impact

While modeling good decision making and helping your child learn to make good decisions takes more time, patience, and energy than “because I said so,” the lasting positive impact is well worth the extra effort. Not only will your child learn how to approach decisions constructively, but you can also expect to find your child talking back less, behaving better, and less likely to throw a tantrum. Not to mention, you will save yourself a lot of grief long term.

Articulating decisions and respecting your child’s “why” is a process--like most things with raising kids! But don’t give up, and remind yourself of the goal of helping your child succeed in life.

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