Why do we ask our kids do the things we do?
This is a question I often ask myself these days.
The root of it (as in many things parenting related) lies in my own childhood.
When I was a teenager, I stopped just doing as my mom asked. And started asking her why I had to do things. Why did I have to do my homework before I got to go hang out with friends? Why did I have to go to bed at a certain time?
Most of the time I remember her answer being: “Because I said so.”
Yeah, that didn’t work for me.
What happened instead was that I learned to lie about doing my homework so I could go out with my friends. Or I pretended to go to sleep but really stayed up reading in bed with a flashlight on under the covers.
There were, however times when my mom did give me an explanation. This is what things sounded like then…
ME: Why do I have to be home at 1 a.m?
MOM: Because the bars close at 2 a.m. and I don’t want you out there on the road with all the drunk drivers.
ME: Oh, ok. That makes sense.
And I had no problem whatsoever following this rule!
I resolved that when I had kids, I would be able to give them REAL answers when they asked me why things had to be done a certain way.
Well, it turns out that this parenting thing is a bit more complicated than how I saw it as a teenager 😂
Asking myself WHY I do things isn’t a fun question.
Especially when I unfortunately reach the conclusion that there’s not actually a good reason my kids should be doing what I’m asking them to!
Asking this question does however result in giving me the ability to handle the situation better when I get the (inevitable) resistance.
When I have a clear WHY behind the things I expect of my kids or ask them to do (or NOT do) it creates clarity and I have very little problem sticking to my guns and setting boundaries.
- Why does my kid need to brush his teeth?
- Because otherwise his teeth will rot and fall out. Or at the very least he’ll get a lot of cavities and be in pain.
- Why does my kid need to go to bed when he does?
- Because he needs to rest to recover from the day and grow.
- Why does my kid need to wait for me to cross the street?
- Because people drive too fast and may not see a small kid crossing the street by themselves.
These situations all seem pretty clear, right? They have to do with my child’s physical well-being. Easy peasy.
In other situations things get a bit foggier.
- Why does my kid need to sit at the table until everyone is finished eating?
- Why can’t he eat fruit before dinner?
- Why does he need to eat his vegetables?
- Why does he need to wear a jacket?
- Why can’t he throw toilet paper in the toilet?
For some of these types of situations, I can (usually) come up with a good answer. For example, if our toilet eats too much toilet paper in one go, it could get clogged or break.
For other situations it’s a bit more challenging.
Why exactly does my 3 year old need to wear a jacket? Is it really true that he’ll get a cold if he doesn’t wear it? Could it be that he experiences the cold in a different way than I do? And is how we experience cold something learned?
I happened to have followed a Wim Hof cold training program and know from experience we can train ourselves to experience cold differently. But I’m getting off-topic.
My conclusion (in response to my kid who’s refusing to put on his jacket) is that even though I have the habit of putting on a jacket when going outside most of the time, I may need to revisit why I’m asking this. And perhaps even choose to change course.
“Fine, you don’t need to put on your jacket. How about I take it with us, just in case you change your mind?”
So what to do?
Two tactics I use to handle these foggy situations:
- Try and put myself in my kids shoes. How would I feel if someone were giving me this rule? Does it make sense? Could he actually be experiencing the situation quite differently? He is a different person after all.
- Take a values perspective. This means: if it’s something that’s important to me personally or to our family, then that can also be a reason to stick to my guns (set boundaries).
Take the example of sitting at the table until everyone has finished eating. If your value is togetherness and this is how it looks like to you, then you could say something like:
“It’s important to me that we eat our meal together and that means at mealtimes everyone in the family stays at the table until we are all finished. When we are finished you can play.”
Now every kid is different and every person/family has a different set of values, so I can’t (and won’t) tell you how you should do it with your kid in your situation. Nor what battles are important enough to fight. Personally I’ve given up on everyone eating the whole meal at the table. What is expected in our family however is to start together.
What I encourage all of you to do is: check-in with yourself as to why all these rules, boundaries, tasks, expectations etc. for our kids are there in the first place. If you can’t create a clear why then maybe it’s time to make a shift. Maybe it’s not really that important after all!
It could be that:
- Maybe what our kid is doing or asking is just inconvenient right now. Example: Cooking pasta in the morning.
- We think it’s gross or it’s not what we would do.
Example: Combining apple sauce and cheese.
- Or our parents did things this way so have copy-pasted the behaviour without ever challenging it.
Example: No snacks before dinner.
If you have a clear why – power to ya! If not…I challenge you to let go of a bit and see what happens!
Speaking for myself, relaxing some of these rules and expectations and saying ok (instead of an automatic no) has created more room for fun and enjoyment and it could for you too!