This past week, Matt and I visited the Jacksonville Zoo — full of children, most of them pretty well-behaved (and lots of room to get away from the ones that were being obnoxious!) As we were checking out the black leopard, I felt a small person attempting to shove in front of me. I was initially impressed when his mother pulled him back and told him not to do that again. But then he asked, “Why?” and she said, “Because I told you so” and I just wanted to scream!
I know exactly why parents pull out the old “because I said so” — it's exhausting dealing with an endless stream of questions from someone who doesn't even seem to be listening to your answers. I understand that it's easier to deflect a question than respond to it, because I've done it many times myself with friends' children. And I frankly don't care if parents whip out a “because” when the kid asks why the sky is blue or why water is wet (most parents don't even know the answers to questions like that anyway!) But explaining to a child why you lay down the law as you do is an important part of discipline — “because I said so” just isn't good enough!
What you're telling your child is that he should blindly do as told, without questioning the legitimacy of the request. You think that you're asserting your authority as “the parent,” but what you're really doing is teaching your children NOT to think for themselves. What kind of adults will they become if they never challenge authority? I would want my kids to be intellectually curious, always examining the world around them. That's the only way to raise free-thinkers rather than sheep. And we have far too many sheep in this country as it is.
While you might simply be trying to prevent arguments and back-talking, the “no-answer” answer is more likely to elicit the exact opposite response. Kids are designed to test their boundaries, and will keep pushing and pushing and pushing until they are given a good reason to do otherwise. When a child is about to engage in a behavior that might cause him to be hurt, or hurt someone else, or break something, or otherwise make life difficult, you should tell him! “Don't hit your brother, because I said so” is not going to keep little Johnny from pounding on his sibling — but “You know that really hurts your brother, and you wouldn't like it if he hurt you. In fact, if you keep hitting him, I'm going to tell him to hit you back as hard as he can and we'll see how you like it” may very well grab his attention.
Seriously, your job as a parent is to guide your child into adulthood — and that means providing him with the information and decision-making skills he needs to be able to navigate future dangers and problems without you. When your stock answer is “because,” you're not explaining the reasons behind your rules, and you're not offering the kid any valuable or substantive life lessons. If all you do is teach a child to do what you said, where will he be once you're gone? How have you made him a better and stronger person? I know you're tired, but you chose this job — if you're going to do it, do it right!
By the way, I turned around and told that mother at the zoo not to talk to her child that way again — because “I” said so!
Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream with The Husbert and two fur-babies. Learn more at GettingOrganizedAToZ.com and RamonaCreel.com.
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