This was a more generic statement that was put to me recently, not specifically a question. A friend simply spoke their thoughts out loud to me, remarking at how wonderfully amenable my child is, and how he does what I ask him to do without arguing, asking why, or whining. So here’s a full explanation of why I’ve cultivated that level of authority, and the lead and follow relationship that exists between myself and my son. I talk with my son on a constant, every day basis about the reasons why we do things the way that we do in our family. Because he needs to understand the reasons for things being the way that they are. And I’m going to share that he is about to turn six in a few weeks now, but even when he was significantly younger I have always provided proper reasons for things in the moment to help him grasp concepts and understand the big and small pictures of things. That being said, following is an approximation of the way in which I explain to my son that I expect him to do what he’s told, accept when I tell him no, and do so without arguing, whining, talking back or trying to fight me on it.
What happens in the real world when a person doesn’t do what they’ve been told to do by an authority figure?
- If I don’t do what my boss tells me to do, I’ll be lucky not to get fired.
- If I don’t do what a police officer or other law enforcement authority tells me to do, I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t tase my ass.
- If my husband asks me to do something in a tone of voice that conveys his need, but I stand there asking why and not moving to help him, I’ll be lucky not to spend the evening in a big unhappy fight with a justifiably angry husband. This goes both ways, and I love and appreciate that my husband always jumps up to help me any time I ask him for anything, great or small, because this respect is mutual and mutually beneficial.
Now for my adult readers who’ve gotten this far, let’s note right here that I am in no way discussing civil disobedience, or the necessary and difficult action of citizens stepping up to question our government and its actions, or to go against it or refuse to participate or accept or go along. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m speaking specifically about the day to day operations that allow life to function, and in which people are required to respect and obey simple authority figures in order for society, commerce, and their daily lives to function.
Back to the subject; when I was explaining this to my son, I specifically stated the following:
- When I ask or tell you to do something, you will do it. Right then. And then AFTER you’ve done what I’ve asked, if you can’t think about the reason for it on your own, when you see that things are calm and it’s a proper time for questions, then of course you can ask me why we needed to do that and learn about what we’re doing.
- When I tell you “No” about something, it is never Ok to whine about it, or ask me over and over again for the thing that I’ve already told you “No” about. Because “No” means “No”. Because I am the parent and you are the child. Because the reason is that I said “No”, and unless you are calm and asking politely and you’re ready to listen to my reason, I’m not going to try to explain the reason why I needed to say “No” about that particular thing in that particular moment when you’re not capable of hearing me and accepting what I’ve said.
- There will be no talking back, no whining, no arguing, and no fighting. Because if our family is doing those things, our family isn’t happy. And what you need right now is as much happiness, love, and calm contentment as you can get while you are growing up. So we do everything we can to make sure that conflicts end quickly, and we can all get on with being happy together.
And this point of the conversation is where I get him involved, so here’s a quick run-down of the Q&A portion of the conversation between myself and my son:
When you are at school, if a teacher asks you to do something, is it Ok to talk back, argue or ask why? – “Of course not! I’d get in trouble!”
When you were in school last year, and Kaitlyn was picking on you and acting like a bully, did it matter WHY she was doing that? – “NO! It was wrong and she learned not to do that anymore. She learned to be nice.”
If someone robs a bank, or murders someone, or abuses a child, does it really matter why they did it? – “No. They need to get in big trouble for doing any of that stuff.”
When we’re wrestling and tickling and playing, and you ask me to stop, do I ask you “Why?” or say “No” to that and keep right on with what I want to do? – “No! You don’t do that Mama! When I say “Stop!” you stop! And you never ask me why I need you to stop! You’re so nice when we play!” Exactly! Because I understand the tone of your voice, and that you’re saying “Stop!” because you need me to stop. And I respect your words, and I stop, without asking “Why?” and without arguing about what you need.
Because in real life, the question “Why?” is probably the least important thing you’ll ever ask. Most of the time, you’ll be smart enough that if you just spend a minute thinking about it, you’ll be able to think of the reason why.
Then I went on to talk about saving important questions for an appropriate time, and how if he can’t remember his question to ask later, it probably wasn’t important enough in the first place.
To further explain how “Why?” is the least important question most anyone ever asks, here’s more on that:
Of these, “Why” is the least important. Seriously. I’m constantly answering my son’s questions along these lines:
- WHAT is that?
- WHAT does it do?
- HOW does it work?
- WHEN can we…
- WHERE does this…
And in all those cases, for all such questions and about a zillion more, the answers are both informative and productive. By that, I mean that in the process of asking and answering all such questions, he is learning about the world around him and how things work. These are highly valuable questions for him to be asking.
But “Why” is different. “Why” is a more deeply philosophical and open ended question, and for the most part, involves concepts he’s not capable of grasping right now. By all means, when someone cheats on you in a relationship, take time to ask “Why?” and possibly save yourself that pain repeating itself. When individuals perpetrate terrible crimes, understand the reason why can help us adults better care for our population – but this is a great big idea that a young child can’t possibly grasp. Does everybody get what I’m saying here?
There will come a time, as my son grows, that we will begin to talk more about the “Why” of things. But not right now. Not for a good long while. And what we’re working on right now is laying the kind of foundation in his growing mind that will help him become a valued employee, a valued husband, a respected and valued human being in all his relationships whether they are based on authority or just friendship.
When a child asks “Why?” they often know that the answer will be somehow debatable. Because “Why” answers allow more opportunities for argument, discussion, talking back, objection, and all the things that young children seek to do when they’re attempting to achieve authority over their parents. So when your little lawyer starts her argument, ask whether you allowed the opportunity for the argument to begin. Because you probably did when you didn’t put up a barrier against “Why” in your parent-child relationship.
The end result of all of this, is that our son pretty much does what he’s told almost all the time. (I say almost because we’re not raising a robot – there’s always going to be “Why” times) He largely accepts what we have to say without talking back or questioning the authority of our knowledge, and he is very happy, very secure, and a much more contented child than many of his peers. He cries a lot less than the other children we know. He almost never pitches a fit or throws a tantrum. It simply doesn’t happen in our house. But our house is full of questions and answers, explanations and reasons, smiles and laughter and cuddles and love.
And now that I’m done tooting my own parenting horn, I welcome all feedback in the comments, or you can contact ThaliaBrandon.com directly to tell me what a terrible mother you think I’m being. Because no matter what type of parent a parent is, there will always be some portion of the population that jumps up screaming that they are terrible parents and shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce. Yeah. Because that’s a kind thing to say to another human being. Come on people! Go look at pictures of cats and relax a little, Ok?