“But Moooom! Whyyy?”
“Because, I Say So!!”
How easily those four words roll off our tongues when our children meet us with whining and repeated demands.
But is it a good idea to keep resorting to them?
I am a mom of three boys. One of their biggest questions is, “Mom, can we go to Nana’s?”
We live right across the street from her so they run back and forth constantly! They love to go see their grandmother, but I also know that they love to go have the run of her TV; they love to get out of doing their daily chores; and they love all of the sweet treats that Nana gives them every time they walk through her door.
So by the zillionth time in a day they ask me, “Mom, can we go to Nana’s?” and they have heard, “Not right now” they naturally reply with, “But, whyyyyyy?” (Drawn out with a dramatic plea.)
By now I’m at my wit’s end. And I’m quick to quip back, “Because, I Say So!”
Why is that a problem though? Why shouldn’t we just say “Because, I Say So!” and just get things done? It sure is efficient and haven’t parents used that for generations?
Research in the field of developmental psychology may have the answer. Psychologists classify parenting styles into 4 categories based on how controlling and demanding we are, and how much we focus on communication, responsiveness and nurturing.
Here is a simple picture illustrating the different parenting styles –
As positive parents, our goal is to nurture democratic families by being authoritative parents who partner with our kids to raise them to be happy, well-behaved and well-adjusted. According to researchers, while there is no universally “best” style of parenting, this style of parenting is better associated with raising competent kids who have positive behaviors and strong self-esteem.
Even when it may be uttered out of frustration or exasperation, the “Because I Say So!” response pushes us into the authoritarian parenting style – not only does this fray our relationship with our kids, but could result in our kids ending up being fearful and anxious, less self-confident, and poor communicators.
So, what else can we say instead of “Because I Say So!”?
Here are a few alternate responses:
1. “My answer is No. Here’s why……”
You may feel as a parent you shouldn’t have to explain yourself but there are many good reasons for us to. Our words are important to our kids in more ways than one.
First, the fact that you are making an effort to explain is a sign of high responsiveness and nurturing and conveys unconditional love to your kids. It implicitly shows them that you aren’t too busy to have a conversation with them and that they are worthy.
If you make it a point even in their whiniest moments to explain your answers in a calm tone then your kids understand, “Hey, Mom and Dad are always willing to talk to me no matter what.”
If you make time and show patience over the small stuff, then kids know you’ll be there even for the bigger stuff. It opens the doors to communication at the youngest of ages and helps lay the ground work as kids become older.
Secondly, it teaches your children respect. If you make it a point to talk to your children (even when they are tap dancing on your last nerve) in a calm voice and show them respect, you are actually setting a really positive example for them. You are showing them how to treat others (and you!) even when their nerves are rubbed raw.
Third, our words help our children grow in more ways than one. According to this article from the Washington Post, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risely, found that children who heard less words, including harsher more prohibitive speech, less complex vocabulary, and less conversational give-and-take, do not reach their full potential in life, intellectually and emotionally. This same study found that there is literally a 30 million word gap between children whose parents focus on communication and those who do not. That is not just a huge gap in the words but also in the parent-child relationship and impacts children’s math ability, spatial ability, perseverance, self-regulation, empathy and morality.
Finally, it may just reduce the number of times they respond to you with a “No!” and communicate their needs better. When we make an effort to explain to our kids the reason for our response, it sets a precedent and lays down the foundation of a culture of open communication in our family. So the next time you ask them to wear a sweater on a cold day instead of just saying “No” or whining “I don’t want to wear a sweater”, they may just say “But, that sweater makes me feel itchy all over.”
Explaining your reason however does not mean your kids will magically start agreeing with you.
If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll come back to you in 5 minutes with the exact same request.
The key here is to simply accept it and not get annoyed. Stay calm and respond with…
2. “Nothing has changed in the last 5 minutes. My answer is still No. The reason is still […]”.
One of the key tenets of positive parenting is to stay consistent. So, keep your voice calm and let it sink in that unless something else changes, your answer will not.
Sometimes, just this much is enough.
In our case, at this point my sons have sometimes come up with “If we finish our school work and chores may we then go to Nana’s?”
If there is no other reason for me to object, I say “Yes, if you’ve finished your school work and [explicitly list all the other things that need to be done and any time constraints], then you can go”
If there is no time for them to complete their school work, the chores, go to nana’s and be back before supper time, I take the time to explain that.
What if things don’t stop at that though? What if they wait for a few more minutes and repeat the question again.
It is time now to respond with…
3. “I’ve already answered that question. Do I seem like the kind of parent that would change my mind that quickly?” — [aka, the ‘Asked and Answered’ Method]
I read about this method on parenting expert Amy McCready’s site Positive Parenting Solutions.
To be honest, I was incredulous when I first read it because it is so blunt.
It is called the “Asked and Answered” method that was created by Lynn Lott, MA, MMFT and Jane Nelson, EdD who co-authored the book Positive Discipline A-Z: 1001 Solutions to Everyday Parenting Problems.
The way it works is when your child asks a question repeatedly, you ask them, “Have you heard of ‘Asked and Answered’?”
Then you review the question that has been asked repeatedly, and your consistent response to it.
Then you ask them, “Do I seem like the kind of parent that would change my mind that quickly?”
It is noted at this point that your child will probably try to argue their point, show some less than flattering facial expressions, or walk away.
This is okay.
It is also okay to ignore it.
From this point forward though, when your child comes to you whining or nagging all you have to say to them is “Asked and Answered.”
This may not take many words, but there does come a point when you have explained yourself thoroughly and kids just try to wear you down to get what they want. However, instead of saying, “Because I Say So!” this is a good reminder that you have heard them, responded to them, and explained yourself.
Another important aspect of this idea is that it conveys to your kids that you aren’t the type of parent that will change their mind in response to nagging and whining. This strips these negative methods of persuasion of their power forcing your kids to either learn to tackle the emotions brought on by the disappointing outcome (thereby improving their emotional intelligence) or think of more positive methods of persuasion (thereby improving their communication and negotiation skills).
4. “I hear you. But, we’re going to do it this way first because…”
This is a variant of #1.
If you have a strong-willed child, directly answering “No” may not fare very well. This approach, while gentler and avoids the word “No” but is an equally firm alternative.
This will let your child know that you are in the spot of authority while not degrading their position and reassuring them that they are heard.
This is an incredible opportunity to communicate with your child. If you have a strong-willed child then you know they have opinions that they feel very passionately about. Take advantage of this opportunity to discuss ideas between the two of you to see which one’s you can agree upon. This lets them know that you care about how they feel and their ideas. While simultaneously building a bridge of communication instead of creating a battle of the wills.
If you can’t reach a satisfactory conclusion then say something like, “Well, let’s try it this way first and if it doesn’t work then we’ll try one of your ideas and just keep taking turns until we figure out something that works for both of us!”
Again, be sure to explain your reasons for why your way should be first. Just saying “Because I am the parent” is no better than “Because I say so”, so make sure you have a valid explanation just as with #1. (If you don’t have a valid reason that you can explain, and still feel like your way should be first, perhaps it is time for some reflection and contemplation?)
Another great way to approach the “Because, I say so!” situations would be –
5. “I said, “No.” Can you tell me why?”
Telling our kids no can be hard at times. As parents we want to make our kids happy. However, keeping our kids 100% happy 100% of the time is not always what is best for them. Sometimes we have to say, “No!” We don’t have a choice. On those occasions though, we don’t have to be dogmatic about it.
Be gentle when you say no, and follow it up with, “Do you know why I said no?” equally gently.
You might be surprised by their response.
If they know exactly why you said no then the conversation should have a period put on the end of it because they do understand. If they repeat their request, it is time to go through steps #2 and #3.
However, there are times when our kids just flat out don’t understand why we say no to something.
My middle child is very strong willed. When he makes up his mind it is very hard to sway him. This is a positive thing when he uses it in a good direction.
However, when he doesn’t, it can be very difficult to handle. So when I have to tell him no or tell him to do something that he doesn’t agree with, it can escalate quickly into a full blown power struggle if I don’t make it a point to make sure he understands.
Asking him, “Do you understand why I said no?” or “Do you understand why we are doing it this way?” is vital in keeping communication open between us and stopping any further upset.
Which brings us to the final alternative –
6. “I see that you don’t agree with me. Can you think of a solution that can work for both of us?”
This is the holy grail of positive parenting… being secure in our own authority as a parent to allow our kids to come up with the solution so they can be responsible, and willing, partners in their own upbringing.
“I can’t let you go to Nana’s now because you still have homework to do and it’s almost supper time. Can you think of a solution that can work for both of us?”
“I need you to go pick up your room because we have to leave in 5 minutes. I see you want to continue playing. Can you think of a solution that can work for both of us?”
“I can’t let you hit your sister even if she took away your toy because that will hurt, and we do not hurt each other in this family. Can you think of a solution that can work for all of us?”
I homeschool all three of our boys. It is very interesting (to put it mildly) as they range in age from 5 years old to 16 years old. Our middle son is 10 but thinks he is going on 22! He is very strong willed and very intelligent.
When we first began homeschooling, I’ll admit, I was a bit of a control freak. I wanted to make sure each of my kids were retaining everything they possibly could. I knew homeschooling was the right option for them, but I never wanted anyone to say they didn’t measure up because they didn’t go to a traditional school.
Basically, I let my insecurities dictate our homeschool. Finally, my mighty little 10 year old said, “I don’t want you to teach me everything! I want to learn some of this stuff on my own! It makes me feel like a baby!”
(Gasp!!) I was so afraid! I knew he wanted some independence. I knew he was super smart and didn’t always need me to spoon feed him every single daily assignment. Yet, all of my crazy mom thoughts plagued me. What if he doesn’t actually read everything he is supposed to? What if he doesn’t grasp his assignments? What if…..?
After a few moments of panicky mom-thoughts, I said, “Okay. Well are you actually going to read everything you are supposed to? Will you ask me if you don’t understand something? Will you be okay if I still double check your assignments to make sure we fix any mistakes?”
He assured me he would and that he was fine with bringing his work to me to be checked just like his older brother does.
Though, I still wasn’t totally convinced, I asked him: “What are you going to do if you don’t realize you aren’t fully grasping a subject?”
He said, “Well, why don’t I do my reading, writing assignments, and history by myself and let you look over them when I’m done, but you can actually teach me my math and science.”
I thought for a moment and took a deep breath and said, “Okay.”
Do you know he has learned so much this year? I think it is because he is super smart! (Proud mom moment) But I also know it is because when I gave him room and trusted him to read and follow instructions, he was capable of grasping material on his own. He didn’t have to have me there spoon feeding him every little detail.
And not having to do things just because his mom said so freed the mental energy he would spend on fighting with me and focus it on what he needed to do next 🙂
Overall, this has also given him so much confidence in himself and his abilities. He now will come and ask for help without feeling like he is being treated as an infant.
This has greatly impacted our homeschool year in a positive way. It has given me more time to be more hands on with our younger child that actually needs it while allowing my older two to grow a little more with their independence.
Sometimes, kids can come up with solutions that we can’t even presume to think of. We just need to give them a chance.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
It’s time to stop and think things over right where you are. Remember there are no right or wrong answers. This is just a way for you to recognize where you stand:
- Do you have a habit of saying, “Because, I Say So!” every time your kids question your responses?
- Do you leave the door of communication open when you have to tell your child, “No” or when you ask your child to do something they don’t particular want to?
- Are you okay with the idea of trying things your child’s way if it still leads to the same end point?
- Are you the type of parent that will cave after your child’s constant nagging?
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
Start where you are. If you have a habit of saying, “Because, I Say So!” make it a personal goal to take those words out of your vocabulary.
Pick one response to substitute that phrase. That way when you are put in the situation that you might be tempted to use “Because, I Say So!” you’ll already have another response ready to go!
Make a list of all of the reasons you want to be able to openly communicate with your child/children. Every time your kid(s) challenge your responses, pull out that list. Look it over and remember why communication is so important to you.
Ask yourself regularly, are you hearing your child’s suggestions? Are you both gaining understanding from the decisions you are making? Be sure to ask those around you too so you can gain some outside perspective.