But Why?

The next time your child says, “But why do I have to pick up the toys (or rake the leaves, or ….),” say, “I’d love to talk about why – as soon as the toys are picked up.” The conversation won’t happen because the question was meant as a diversion tactic. The kid doesn’t care why, he just doesn’t want to do it. That’s understandable, but it’s also not how life always works. Imagine how that would go over if everything your kid’s first boss said was questioned and argued about.

When the child tries to engage you by continuing to argue (and he will), don’t engage. Leave the room or do something else. Do not let the child have a snack, meal or go do anything else “fun” until he has done what you asked. It might be hard, but it’s easier than ongoing arguments, disrespect and frustration.

My mom used to say “Obedience is immediate." I realize “obey” may be an outdated concept often associated with the idea of taking away free will. Here I’m speaking of the also seemingly outdated concept of kids doing what their parents tell them to, when they tell them to.

Even though we’ve worked hard to be less rigid than our parents were, you have to admit, most of us had a healthy respect for our parents. Sassy talk was not tolerated, and being slapped for it was not unheard of. Keep this in context. I’m not suggesting that was a good idea or that we start slapping our kids.

I’m all for discussion, listening to the kids and taking the strict index down a notch or three, but there are times when our kids absolutely need to do what we say – “get away from the street” – when there is no time for explanations.

The problem is we have gotten lazy. It’s easier, and not necessarily bad, to say, “Okay, 10 more minutes of screen time” or “Fine, but no later than midnight.” But when we do this too often -- and we know we do -- the problem is we’re teaching our kids that everything we say is negotiable. Why is that a bad thing?  Because everything isn’t negotiable. Try arguing with the policeman when he stops you for speeding, or the teacher when he catches you cheating. Because as the parents we have a relatively short time to raise good humans. It's our job to set standards, boundaries and rules. Our kids may grow up and choose not to follow everything we’ve said, but if we don’t teach them basic rules of getting along in society, we are not doing our job.

Sometimes we don’t have the time or interest in discussing everything the kid disagrees with  – and that’s our right as parents. At the same time, unless we want to be dictators instead of parents, there are many topics that will need discussing, especially as they get older (“I realize you think it’s stupid that you have a curfew. Let’s talk about why. We may not agree, but hopefully we can find something that works for both of us.”). However, the sooner our kids realize everything we say isn’t negotiable, there are fewer arguments, our homes become more peaceful, and our kiddos begin to learn that is also the way the real world works. 

Check out the 1964 classic Children: The Challenge, by Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D.


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