"Because I said so!"

Did you hear this as a child? I'm sure most of us have, and like many of you, I hated it! lol, it's completely natural to! And I'm sure many of us, as parents, say it. Because it's true. "Because I said so" is the short way of saying, "Because I know more, have more experience, have a more complete picture, and understand better than you do right now. I don't have time to talk you through all of it, and I just need you to listen so you don't... get killed, get injured, make a bad choice, drive me insane... etc." Right? The sentiment is so relatable, that this comic has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I remember having this very discussion in my psychology class earlier this year.

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  • Hold my hand while we cross the street. Why? Because I said so.
  • Eat your dinner. Why? Because I said so.
  • Brush your teeth. Why? Because I said so.

I mean, we want our kids to be obedient, right? We love them, we only want what's best for them, there's no reason why they shouldn't just obey - simply do what they're told.

Switching tracks for a moment - it'll come back to this, I promise - I made that list of "Things I'll Never Do When I Have Kids" before I had kids. I've bent some of those rules, broken others, but saying "I said so" landed on that list, and I work hard to make sure that I don't say it. It's one that I just won't budge on. I never want the reason for my kid to do something be that I said so, and he have no further explanation.

I want my kid to grow up to be an assertive, independent, strong-willed, and empowered person. I want him curious. I want him to be able to think critically and rationally. I want him to seek to better understand things and people. I want him to be capable of seeing the world through other people's eyes, and I believe that the easiest way for him to do that is to ask "why?"

If you are learning a new skill, you watch an expert perform the skill, and you ask, "why?" Why did you do this instead of that? Why do they need to be done in this order instead of that one? What happens when it's done differently? What are the consequences? What are the possible outcomes? And as you learn more and you learn better, your questions change. If you do this and then that instead of that and then this, wouldn't it be more efficient? Wouldn't more people benefit if it were done this way? Can we try this way and see what happens? 

Our children are learning life from watching us. They come to us blank, and we fill in the pages of their life with rules and regulations, expectations and procedures. They learn from how we behave, how we teach them, and how we grow them. They learn from us.

When we say, "because I said so," they learn that they are not to question authority. They do not learn to think through a situation or a problem, because the thinking has been done for them. They learn to follow orders, and little else.

So, what is a parent to do? Sit there and have a 20 minute argument? No, and this is not really an option when it comes to things like holding hands while crossing the street. The stakes are too high (kid getting hit by a car) for the child to not simply listen and obey.

In my home, we have a "listen then ask" rule. You do what you're told, and while you're doing it, or shortly after, you can ask. During the "ask" time, I usually talk a bit about my thought process, why he needed to do a specific thing or why he needed to do it at a specific time. I like to clue him in on what I'm thinking and why so as to help him develop his critical thinking.

It is vital that the "listen" come first, because it's true - we do know more, we have more experience, we have a more complete picture of what's going on. The consequences of the child not listening might be as small as a messy room or it could be a matter of health and safety. The listening must come first.

It is during the ask that we demonstrate that as adults we are the ones with a command of the situation. It is during the ask that we teach and empower our kids. By allowing our kids to ask why, we are helping them to learn what works and what doesn't and why it is that way. We are helping them to form the basis of their critical thinking.

  • Hold my hand while we cross the street. Why? Because this is a busy street. You are small, and the cars are fast. They might not see you, or they might not see you until it's too late, and you could be badly hurt. It is important for you to hold my hand when we cross the street until you learn to look both ways and listen for cars. We will practice this many times until you're ready, and we can decide together when you're ready.
  • Eat your dinner. Why? Because this is what's for dinner tonight. The food you're eating will help you to grow big and strong. Without food, you will get sick.
  • Brush your teeth. Why? Because brushing your teeth gets rid of the plaque and germs that are in your mouth and on your teeth. If you do not brush your teeth, your teeth will begin to get holes called cavities, and your teeth with start to hurt. It may get more serious than that, and brushing your teeth is an easy way to keep that from happening.

Right now, he's 5, but as he grows older, I expect him to argue with me, not in a "I just don't want to" way, but I want him to convince me, to change my mind. I want him to learn how to find the win-win, the best compromise.

I truly believe that by saying, "because I said so" we are shutting down the conversation instead of opening it up. I believe that we are denying them a voice - as they don't get to tell us their thoughts and feelings, we are denying them the opportunity to learn - as we do not tell them why they need to do what we've asked, and we are demonstrating that their thoughts, feelings and opinions mean nothing, that they must simply function as instructed.