Every year during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, my husband and I make commitments. This year, he committed to being a better listener with our family, and I committed to doing a better job of explaining the “why” behind what I’m asking my boys to do.
While I’m pretty good about explaining the “why” with my team at work, for some reason I’m a bit more bossy when dealing with my 9 and 11-year-old boys and a little too willing to blurt out, “Because I said so.” So I’m being much more intentional at home about providing context when I ask my kids to do something.
I’m not perfect at it, but the approach is starting to pay off. Here’s what I’ve learned about the benefits:
YOU’LL GET MORE BUY-IN
Explaining the “why” requires that my kids and I stop, take a breath and look at each other when I make a request: “Ethan, I’d like you to stop that. Can you pause for a minute so I can explain why?” If I can get him to stop long enough for me to explain my reasoning, he’ll usually protest less. It also gives him an opportunity to debate the issue if he thinks I’m wrong — which, by the way, usually happens when we’re talking about screen time. Ultimately, he gets a chance to be heard and feels more a part of the decision. The challenge is this: Now that I’ve been more diligent about explaining the “why,” he often demands it. He’s getting to that age when he’s not accepting my authority unchallenged. (Careful what you ask for!) Still, I think we get to a better place together when I take the time to explain “why” than just launch into “Because I said so.”
THEY’LL LEARN TO MAKE BETTER-INFORMED DECISIONS
One of our long-running family conversations is about eating healthy food. If you’re a parent, you know that “eat your vegetables” doesn’t necessarily go over all that well. So as we introduce more of the “why” into our household, we’ve been doing a lot of label reading. And the kids are asking more questions about, for example, why certain vitamins are important — which we now research as a family. I hope experiences like these set the boys up to make well-informed choices as adults.
As a practical matter, talking about “why” might also help them learn about how stuff works. The other day, I found my youngest going up the stairs and leaning sideways over the railing. “Noah, would you please stop doing that? Can I just show you why I’m concerned about this?” I went on to explain how the banister is attached to the wall; and if he kept it up, he’d weaken the strength of the banister, and it might come unscrewed. So maybe he learned a little about physics … or maybe that’s a stretch. But I’m certain of one thing: He had an opportunity to ask questions and understand the context for why I was asking him to stop leaning over the banister. And he stopped.
IT INSPIRES CREATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING
At home and at work, I’ve found that when you tell people what to do, their only choice is to do it that way. But if you help them understand why something needs to be done, they might come up with a better approach.
YOU’LL FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF
Taking time to explain the “why” benefits me, too. As we talk about issues more thoroughly, it helps me see things from the perspective of my children. Plus, it forces me to be clear about my own reasons. Am I asking one of the boys to stop doing something simply because it irritates me? Or do I have a really good reason?
There’s no question that explaining the “why” takes time and patience. It’s a heck of a lot easier to say “because I said so” when you’re trying to make a point with kids. But I’m hopeful that the long-term gain will be well worth the effort, especially if it means my boys will grow up to be curious about the “why” in their adult lives.
Explaining the “why” requires that my kids and I stop, take a breath and look at each other when I make a request.