“Because I said so” has no place in my home.
As soon as my kids were no longer newborns, I started giving them reasons for why they couldn’t do something.
“No, you can’t eat paper because it’s not food.”
“No, you can’t have the scissors because they’re sharp and you might hurt yourself.”
“No, you can’t pull the cat’s tail because she might scratch you.”
“No, you can’t have Mommy’s glasses because then she can’t see you.”
Of course I knew they couldn’t understand me at 3 months old. They just smiled at giggled at me. But I didn’t want to be the stereotypical parent who yells “because I said so” at a retreating child’s back. Of course, that might still happen. They are, after all, only human.
Having been told “because I said so” as a kid, I know the anger, frustration, and overall feeling of being completely ignored the phrase generated in me. Not being told why I couldn’t do something made me angry and frustrated, and probably contributed to the hostile retreating back and door slams of my early adolescence. But it also made me, my feelings, and my wants and needs feel ignored.
Why can’t I do xyz?
Because I said so.
Because I said so! You live under my roof, so must obey my rules!
True words, but they still left me feeling ignored and unable to express myself. I know I wasn’t an adult, but didn’t I still deserve some respect? After all, adulthood isn’t very far away for a 13 year old (according to U.S. law, of course).
As a mom, I recognize kids need boundaries and rules. They need to understand what they can and cannot do. Of course I impose rules and restrictions. But I will never do so if it makes no sense. I don’t make rules to be controlling or just to make rules. I have rules to keep everyone safe, keep the household running with everyone having the opportunity to contribute, and to introduce and enforce the greater laws of the land my kids will be subjected to as they get older and venture away from my grasp.
In my mind, “because I said so” does not engender understanding or learning. It’s a strict “that’s just how it is” and leaves a lot of questions. Of course I expect my kids to respect me, do as I ask, and listen to me, but I will never ask for blind obedience or acceptance.
By giving my kids reasons, I’m telling them why they can’t do something so they understand, can incorporate it into their personal histories and schemas about themselves and life, and know I hear them and respect them. They know what and why they’ve done something wrong. My almost 5 year old is a champ at not repeating mistakes and we hardly ever have to repeat why he can’t do something. Sometimes we slid and just say no. He’s more likely to repeat what he did wrong. When we tell him why in a way he understands, he gets it and doesn’t do it again.
But my favorite part is that, by not saying “because I said so,” I’m opening up a world of possibilities, creativity, and exploration.
My son knows, and my not quite 2 year old daughter is learning, that I always have a good reason for why they can’t do something and, when I don’t, they’re free to do what they want. If it doesn’t hurt or impede someone, go for it!
You want to have your snack and draw? Go for it!
You want to turn the coffee table over and use it as a boat? Sure!
You want to sweep? It’ll take longer, but I have to do it anyways and it’ll be good practice and good helping, so why not?
My son is constantly testing what he can and cannot do. But he doesn’t throw tantrums when I say he can’t. He expects a reason. Sometimes I say no, but don’t have a good reason, so it turns into a yes. He gets so excited when he discovers something he can do.
I hope this understanding carries over into adolescence, but I’m not holding my breath.
But I am grateful that it has averted tantrums. Even my daughter does this cute little bent over posture with arms dangling and pouty face when I say no, but she is getting the hang of it and understanding I have good reasons.
Instead of tantruming, they’re off looking for the next great adventure that has a good chance of being a yes. But they’re also learning what isn’t okay and why.