"Why can't I mom?"
"Because I said so, that's why."
Haven't we all heard some variation of that? What does telling a child, "because I said so," really accomplish?
Before I became a parent, it always made me cringe to hear other parents use that to quiet their kids. I knew I didn't like it, but I hadn't before examined why. Now that my 3 year old asks me why on, well, pretty much everything, I have figured out exactly why I don't like that phrase.
First, what I have noticed is that "because I said so," is frequently code for you are about to get in trouble. I am just not really a big fan of speaking to little kids in code unless it has to do with bathroom habits at the dinner table.
Second, is that it takes a moment where you could teach your child valuable reasoning skills and crushes it.
I dared the shopping on Black Friday this year, and heard the screams of kids wanting to do all sorts of things parent's were not okay with. One in particular really hit me. I heard a mom tell her child that he had to hold her hand to cross the street, "Because I said so." It struck me very strange that the mom wouldn't tell the child that the street can be dangerous, that cars might not see him ... I could think of a ton of reasons why that child should hold hands with his mom, why wouldn't you share one ... or all of them if he needs to hear them. I realize that she was probably rushed, but it takes just as much time to say, "to be safe," as it does to say, "because I said so." I thought about it in the car and realized that I have never told my kid, "Because I said so."
One of the most difficult things to teach a child is how to think. Our schools teach our children how to answer multiple choice questions, how to regurgitate answers in a 5 part essay, but few classes have time or funding to teach children how to think and reason through things. If "because I said so," becomes a regular part of your parenting dialogue, how can the child learn reasoning and thought from you? They can't.
I realize we are all busy and feel like moments are precious and the last thing we want to do is sit there and answer question after question. But the thing is, most of the time children are actually asking questions because they want to learn! It isn't until they get older and learn that having to answer the questions frustrates you and makes you cave that they will use it to get what they want ... and at that point, you kind of set yourself up.
If we do our best to remain calm and answer questions accurately for our children we might actually impart lessons with each of these questions. They may have to ask the same question a hundred times but if you give them a real answer then they learn and you might not get that battle or even that question as frequently. If you give them, "because I said so," you just teach them not to get caught by you doing whatever it is they were doing.
You set the example for them, show them that you think through your day, that you care enough to think through the answers you give them and that you respect them enough to share with them why you have arrived at a certain decision.
One of my regular battles at home is not giving pop to my 3 year old. Every time we go to a grocery store or out to eat, he wants Sprite. While I am fine with the occasional pop, I prefer him to be in a healthier habit of having water with his meals. It used to be a bit more of a battle than it is now. My kiddo wanted Sprite and would question over and over, cry and even scream. He would say "I want Sprite!" And I would reply with, "Sprite has too much sugar, we are going to have water." If he pressed more I might tell him that it could upset his belly or that it is getting close to nap time and we don't want to have too much sugar before trying to go to sleep. I even have told him that it is not as healthy and we want to be healthy, so we will have water instead. If he got really upset, I would hug him and let him know I could tell he was upset and frustrated but we were still only going to get water. It only took a few times explaining (and calmly not caving in to his tantrum) why we were not going to have Sprite for him to stop being so upset at me telling him that we were not going to have any. Does he still ask for Sprite? Sure. And sometimes I say, "I think it is a special occasion, sure we can have a Sprite." Most of the time, however, I say, "No Sprite today, too much sugar, we will have water instead." Now that is all it takes, no tears, no frustration, no sadness.
So why do kids get all that frustration when we say "No" but don't give them a reason? Children are concrete thinkers and they think in the present tense only. If you say "Yes," one time and "No," the next, all they know is that you are not letting them have something and they don't know why. Now since even until their teens kids think everything is about them, they are prone to faulty logic like "they are just doing that because they hate me." It seems crazy right, but really, remember what being a kid was like, I bet you might have had similar thoughts like all the other kids in the world.
The strongest method to teach is through observation. Take advantage of that! They are watching you more than you know.
In case you are wondering: I have had my child question why he can't do something and because I had to provide him an answer, I realized I was telling him no just because with no good reason. While we were putting up the Christmas tree he wanted to vacuum. I said to wait until I was done. Because he questioned me, I realized that there really was no good reason that he shouldn't be able to vacuum (after all he was doing something helpful and something that would keep him entertained while I put up the tree). I let him know that I thought about it and I think it would be okay for him to vacuum while I put up the tree. He was happy, I was happy and by the time my tree was up, there were no needles left on the ground to have to clean. :)