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You’re not the boss of me! Why kids deserve an explanation

children deserve explanationThis is my very first post for the Bub Hub.

And, kind people, I already find myself apologising. The last thing I wanted was to be wearing my cranky pants when I wrote this. I wanted to seduce you with cheeky charm and irreverent musings.

Sadly it’s not to be. I’ve tried everything to get them off, from talcum powder to petroleum jelly, a coat hanger and even a fire extinguisher, but these cranky pants just ain’t going anywhere.

There’s no other way around it, I just have to get this off my chest.

Since I became a first time father five-odd years ago and a single father four-odd years ago, some of the “advice” I have read that is passed off as “parenting techniques” by “experts” has left me, in equal parts, informed, humoured and horrified.

Not a few of these examples have also nurtured an uneasy simmering of anxiety as I worry about the present and future pain and torment of children all across the world. Well, maybe just those kids with parents who use the Internet and latch on to bad advice not knowing any better.

I’m no “parenting expert”, but I do have a first-class bullshit detector that went off like a fired-up fire alarm recently when I read a disturbing article by someone, who does claim to be a parenting expert, with an online newspaper.

The piece centred on the notion that our children’s poor behaviours are a reflection of our own poor parenting techniques. That’s digestible enough.

But then the piece focuses on clichéd Mum and Dad complaints including “My child is argumentative”, “My child is strong-willed” and “My child won’t do what she’s told”.
It claims parents should take a good hard look in the mirror. Parents too often “plead, bargain, bribe, cajole, reason, explain, encourage, suggest and promise” when they should just Tell kids with a capital T, “devoid of explanation” and use the fewest number of words possible to get their kid to do whatever you want them to do from going to their room to leaving you alone.

“The form of the instruction is the problem,” said expert says.

“The parent should have simply said, ‘I want you to pick these toys up and move them to another room. Why? Because I said so.” He claims most children fall straight into line.

I know this may sound small fry. It’s not. Using your power to enforce mindless compliance is sinister.

Told you I was cranky.

When did “reason, explain, encourage and suggest” become bad words in parenting?

Us adults know this first hand. We too arrived as emotional and intellectual blank canvasses. The queue of influencers ready to direct us on both small and large decisions in life grew longer by the year.

Parents and grandparents. Babysitters come to mind. Kindy teachers too. Later it’s schoolteachers and sports coaches. Sometimes all of the above. Then, in my case anyway, it was the cops, the broader bureaucratic authorities and even/especially our peers, telling us what to do, where to do it and in what fashion it should be done. They were often wrong and, regardless, I don’t think it’s the dictators who hold the warm and cosy places in our hearts.

Again I’m no expert, but it is my view that teaching kids to unquestioningly follow any order is wrong. Teaching them they don’t deserve an explanation is dangerous and could mute their personal appreciation of their own human rights.

It sounds like a more suitable training method for one of those backyard tiger zoos in Texas or a cantankerous shiatsu that grins when he eats your dinner and diamond rings.

Applied consistently, how oppressive, demeaning and disempowering this surely must be to a supercharged, creative and curious little mind exploding with new ideas, while they are happily and hungrily stretching out to catch and process infinite new bubbles of exhilarating information.

That’s not what I want for my kid. I want him to want answers. I want him to be given answers, I want him to be treated as an equal and I want him to know right from wrong. I want him to respect authority but I also want him, desperately, to know when he needs to stand up against authority and fight the good fight. I also want him to know how to stand up and question his peers when that rapidly approaching time comes.

I hardly think training him to submit like a pet, just because it has an immediately convenient outcome, and I have the power to do so, is in any way acceptable.

At worst this is cowardice and poison for the freethinking mind.

Isn’t it far more important for a child to understand why some things need to be done and that, unfortunately, not every minute of the day can be spent in a state of joyous celebration or thirsty learning? But this is harder, especially after a long day at work and running a home.

Self-determination and human dignity are surely the most powerful practical life tools you can give a child. Together they will empower them.

There are around 1.9 billion kids in the world under the age of 15 according to the United Nations Population Division.

Even if the culprits/experts think bliss for each and every one of them is living in conformity out there in lawnmower land, the reality is, theirs and your kids will still be in a world where not everyone is nice, Syria happens, Indigenous Australians die much, much too young, global economies hang by a thread, scores live in poverty and justice is but a heady dream for far too many and guaranteed to none.

Kids, by definition, must grow up and be survivors not compliant. Some will even have to lead and inspire.

As my son and I often say to each other in great fun, but in all honesty: “You’re not the boss of me!”. I love it when he says that.

Phew. That feels more comfortable. The cranky pants have gone. Next time I promise I’ll bring along my dancing shoes.

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4 comments so far -

  1. I was raised to be seen but not heard and to speak when i was spoken to. I was told “because i said so” to my questions. I grew up confused with low self esteem.I was molested as a child and pre teenby some one who was in an authority persition ,which could have been anyone older than me due to the fact i was raised with no voice.
    I was frightened of confrontation, I was timid like a mouse. I married an abusive man and so the story goes.
    I made a decision to raise my children much differently. I gave them a voice and a loud one i must admit.They were allowed to be noisy kids but when it came to discipline, I never raised my voice but I always answered their whys. It may take longer, but I believe its necessary otherwise your robbing them of that experience to listen ,learn, digest, think internally, agree, disagree, so many things. But again the explanation must fit their age group if you know what i mean. I also raised my children that if it felt wrong to them, it was wrong, doesn’t matter who it was. (I was molested by a church elder).
    My children are strong,confident,law abiding contributing citizens. Two of them were still molested! (By some one who holds much trust.) But because of our open communication it didn’t take a lifetime to start dealing and healing from it. We talk, like we always have done.
    My younger two were together when their great grandfather tried to molest them. My daughter who was all of 5 kept all the great grandys together in one room but when my son got cornered out, he kicked him in the shins and ran. When I arrived at their grand parents to pick them up, my 5 year old daughter told me straight away and it was dealt with then and there, not 30 years later. I believe this is because I have always had open communication lines with my children. So yes answering their whys is crucial to developmental growth that will shape them for life.

  2. My eldest is nearly 4. He gets explanations most of the time. But for now, he is just content with “because it is dangerous”, “because it makes a lot of mess that you will have to clean”, “because your brother/sister is sleeping and it’s loud” etc, so it works well. Nothing too elaborate. Takes the same amount of time to say as “Because I said so” but now he knows why.

    Also, if we are running short on time and he demands a more elaborate explanation I tell him we can discuss it later. And we do.

  3. Great post! I’m for giving kids explanations. I believe explaining the underlying reason why they must or mustn’t do something is the best way to teach them right from wrong and build up their internal value system. Without knowing the reasons behind the “rules”, kids might just grow up resenting authority and breaking out in rebellion the first chance they get. It’s not always easy to take the time to explain they “why” (I’ve fallen short so many times) but I think it’s worth the effort.

  4. As a child, I always hated, “because I said so!” and decided never to say it to my children. I made a point of always giving them a valid reason. They didn’t need to agree with it, but they needed to accept it.

    The problem I encountered was that my children used these reasons for ammunition to argue the point. So I have changed my views on this matter. I do believe in giving reasons most of the time, but sometimes they just need to accept what they are told.

    Also there are the difficult situations. For example, how do I explain to my 10yo that I don’t want her to sleep over at her friend’s house because I have reasonable evidence to suggest they are drug addicts? In this instance, I definately do not wish to share that information with my child. Instead, when she asks I offer for her friend to stay here instead. Though I’m really getting concerned as time goes on that I need to let her know that I’m not comfortable with her staying at that friend’s place, but I’m not sure how. And I definately don’t want to spread any rumours.

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