Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: Because I Said So

One of the tools that is NOT in my parenting toolbox is the old standby "Because I said so!"

I'd love to say that it's never crossed my lips, but it has. I do quickly correct myself. And now my children, who are used to and expect reasons for the things I am asking them to do, wouldn't let it go by even if I didn't correct myself.

No, it doesn't slip out often, hardly ever these days. More frequent is this: "I need you to do this right now and I'll tell you why in a minute." Which is useful in parking lots and the like. Still, I rarely say anything like that either, because I don't ever want them to accept what I'm saying on the basis of strict authority. I want them to always question me about my reasons--to expect, to demand, good rational reasons for, well, everything.

From my post:

Besides, if I can't articulate a good, rational reason for wanting a child to do something, then why am I trying to get him to do it? And if I DO have a good, rational reason, then why on earth wouldn't I share that with him? I'm trying to lead by example here--they need this information!

Read the rest of the post here.

Whether by nature or partly because of our Because I Said So policy, my kids are "What for?" kind of kids:

"I don't know what sort of motto the d'Anconias have on their family crest," Mrs. Taggart said once, "but I'm sure that Francisco will change it to 'What for?' " It was the first question he asked about any activity proposed to him--and nothing would make him act, if he found no valid answer. He flew through the days of his summer month like a rocket, but if one stopped him in mid-flight, he could always name the purpose of his every random moment. Two things were impossible to him: to stand still or to move aimlessly.
--Atlas Shrugged, page 94

When I'm asked "What for?" I always give them an answer--and I've often caught myself giving some pretty lame answers. So this policy helps me, too. It forces me to give clear, rational reasons for what I'm wanting them to do, and to evaluate whether my reasons are really rational and connected with reality, or if it's just some half-identified semi-random notion of what kids ought to be doing in such-and-such a situation.

An example of this might be when, years ago, I let go of the idea that Ryan (who was a toddler) needed to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish rather than eat a bit here, wander, eat a bit there, etc. Before I thought that out some, I had it in my head that kids (and everyone) ought to sit and eat full meals at designated times. I know now that this is not a good policy for myself, and I think it's not a good one for my kids.

Our policy now is "eat when you're hungry and stop when your belly says it's full." Sometimes that means you sit and eat a three-course meal. Sometimes that means you graze and wander. Obviously, this is a much easier policy to have and stick to when nobody is in school or has a regular day job with designated meal times. (Maybe your mealtime policy is different--I'm using this as an example only. YMMV and please do not view this as me bossing you about your mealtime policies.)

My point is, removing "Because I Said So!" from your toolbox can be beneficial for both children and parents.

It's sometimes difficult (not to mention time-consuming) to have to articulate all of the whys and wherefores of each request or decision, but the results--clearer thinking, reevaluation of ideas and family policies, children who do not become acclimated to following an authority figure blindly--are totally worth it.


Kelly Elmore said...

I've definitely had the experience of telling Livy to do something, being asked "Why?", and then having to say, "Nevermind. I don't think I have a good reason."

Our big one was bedtime. I kept trying to get her to go to bed when I was ready to go to bed. Finally, she said, "Why do I have to go to bed just because you are tired?" Ummm ... well, no reason really. So I had to let that go and just go to bed when I was ready and let her go to bed when she was ready. The conflict went away!

Gia said...

I was just trying to explain my use of "I need you to do this right now and I'll tell you why in a minute." and you summed it up perfectly. Because it's useful in parking lots!

Clif said...

I sometimes wonder about this idea of rationalizing to young kids. I think, it might be fine to tell them that they need to do something because "we said so". Obedience in a child is a darned good survival lesson. Once they start getting older - say close to teens, then I might start trying to hit them hard with logical thinking. I think teaching them patience is probably the toughest part. (all mine are grown and gone!)

Jenn Casey said...

Clif: I disagree that obedience is a good survival lesson. Trusting the adults who care for you and being willing to listen to them because of that (mutual) trust is.

Also, I think it's good to articulate my reasoning even to very young children who won't truly understand what I'm saying. Partly, this is good practice for me (making sure I don't have lame reasons!). And partly, it helps set up the expectation that I WILL have a reason, that the things I do aren't just random or at my whim.