By Jaime Jo Wright, Crosswalk.com
She was two years old with the reasoning power of a seasoned attorney and the will of a prize fighter. I was willing to enter the ring with her.
“Momma said ‘no climbing on the counters’.”
“I know,” she replied, “but if you said yes, then I’d obey!”
It was so wrong and so reasonable. Just change my answer, and voila! Instant obedience.
“No.” I responded.
“Why?” Big blue eyes stared back with unwavering nerve.
“Because I said so.” The magic words had been spoken.
It was an unsatisfying answer for my child. While she lowered herself from the forbidden world of Formica countertops, she stared at me with an incredulous expression. When her feet hit the floor, she admonished me.
“That don’t make sense, Momma.”
It don’t make sense. Well, technically it does. I’m the parent. She’s the child. Point made. But little Miss-Two-going-on-Three found it lacking. While I wanted to enforce my authority and the need for her respect, I also wanted to reinforce her need to reason through the situation and learn critical thinking. Too much for a toddler? Perhaps. But at some point, and in this muddy world, critical thinking skills are imperative. Even for a child.
So, what are three things you can do when your “because I said so” falls short and you want your child to learn to obey and respect but also understand the reason why?
1. Discuss It
Ohhhh that sounds exhausting and yes, isn’t always feasible or logical or even wise.
But in a situation such as this, we sat down on the kitchen floor and I took my daughter through the story world of “what would happen if”. What if she fell while climbing? If she hit her head on the stove with the hot burner? Her eyes got huge. She envisioned the pain.
She reasoned through my resounding “no” and to do this day, almost a decade later, she still refuses to climb on a counter.
2. Involve Your Child in the Decision-Making Process
We have a two-choice concept that we utilize often with our daughter. While, my son will simply nod and wave while obeying with utter compliance, my daughter’s spine instantly stiffens when given a direction. But we’ve discovered it’s not always stubbornness. Not at all.
It’s really a very active mind that straightens up with rapt attention, instantly analyzing the instruction and filtering it through her reasoning and know-how. She wants to be included in the instruction, not because she wants to overthrow the Nation of Mom, but because she wants to co-lead. And leadership is an admirable quality.
A quality I’m not willing to crush under my monarchy. Instead, I retain my authority, while involving her in the solution. It could have gone like this:
“Honey, you have two options. One, you get off the counter like I told you, and we can continue to have a fun night. In fact, you can even help me mix the cookie dough. Or, option two, you can stay on the counter, but that will result in XYZ consequence and I will make the cookies by myself. Which one do you want?”
It seems utterly simplistic. Of course, she’ll choose option one! Or will she? This is when both you and your child can discover whether it really is an analytical leadership mind, or simply brute force will that is disrespectful.
It’s easily discernible, even at a toddler’s age, that option one comes with reward and blessing while option two comes with consequence and curse. Interestingly enough, I’ve had many times my daughter has chosen option two out of sheer stubbornness. When discipline ensues, we end it with, “who chose the option to disobey?” She immediately recognizes it was her fault and the consequences lie in her lap.
When she does choose option one and we continue on with blessed compliance, I make a point of applauding her good choice verbally so she can associate my approval and pride in her with her decision to choose wisely.
3. Offer to Take the Consequence
This one we use rarely. But in extreme cases, it’s been known to have massive impact. Use it with reservation and wisdom but keep it in your arsenal of parental possibilities.
My daughter has an aversion to taking prescription medications. Apparently, if it’s not a gummy vitamin, it must be very disgusting. This went on for several years. At three, we realized she would always spew it across the room. At four, we attempted the straddle and pour maneuver. (You know, Mom pins child to floor and Dad tries pouring it in child’s mouth).
At five, we tried alternative flavors. Grape, bubblegum, cherry . . . At six, we had a final showdown. We reasoned. We commanded. We demanded. We offered choices. But none of that would be successful in getting said medicine into her body for healing. We were at a loss. We could threaten the worst—even *gasp* no stuffed animal monkey at bedtime—but that still wouldn’t get the medicine into her. Without really thinking it through, my husband and her had a stare down, and he moved to put the medicine in his mouth.
“STOP!” I cried, not realizing what he was doing. (which was nothing more than showing my daughter how simple it was to put a spoon her mouth).
My daughter froze.
“It’ll kill you! You’re allergic to that stuff!” I yelled, not at all prone to dramatics.
My daughter’s eyes grew huge with tears. “NO DADDY! Don’t die! I’ll take it! I’ll take it!” And she did. Easily. Without argument. Without vomit. Without a dribble.
So, we may have monopolized on the inadvertent situation a little bit. But it reminded me of the time I was talking to another parent who repeatedly was enforcing different punishments on their child for habitual lying.
Until one day, they said to their child: “It hurts us to see you make these bad choices. And bad choices come with consequences. But we love you. So, we’ll take these consequences for you and hope you accept that and learn from it.”
Through many tears and much begging for reprieve, they stood firm and required their child to administer the punishment to them. While no grounding or removal of a precious item or what-have-you would seriously cause the parent pain, the child was horrified that their parent would be punished for something that they had chosen to do.
The lying stopped after that day. The child learned their sin affected more than just themselves.
Sometimes “because I said so” comes after we’ve simply run out of options. The philosophy that “I said so” is enough and should be enough to initiate an immediate, respectful response from the child, may be correct. However, not all children will see that as an assertion of authority so much as a cop-out from helping them understand.
In the end, they continue to lose respect for you because of it. Are you willing to spend a little more time and bring your child behind-the-scenes of the command and help them understand the why? I know when I’m given instruction, my instinctive reaction is to inquire as to the reasoning, so why do we expect children to bypass this?
In conclusion, my daughter no longer climbs on counters, she does take her prescription medications, and she also challenges me every day with her extreme willpower. All too often, I stand firm and administer consequences I wish didn’t have to be administered.
But, I’ve made a commitment to eliminate “because I said so” from my vocabulary, so when my child does choose to be disrespectful and disobedient, they do so knowing full well why I gave them the instruction that I did. It’s remarkable how the fault then lies on their shoulders. And being the one to blame, is not a title a strong-willed child likes to hold.
Reason comes forward, a desire for harmony grows, and a respect for you develops as they see you’re not only making these instructions for their benefit, but you’re helping them understand how they benefit.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Ba Phi
Jaime Jo Wright is the winner of the Christy, Carol, Daphne du Maurier, and INSPY Awards. She's also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of three novellas. Jaime works as a human resources director in Wisconsin, where she lives with her husband and two children.