Hands up, all the parents out there who've said the following to your kids:
- Sharing is caring.
- Reduce, reuse, recycle.
- Always be yourself.
- It's better to give than to receive.
Before anyone gets defensive, I'm not about to refute any of these statements here (I kind of agree with all of them). What I would like to point out is that even when we try to instill positive values and behaviour in our children, we have a tendency to serve them platitudes like these without explaining the reasoning behind them. We're quick to give them "what", but we're stingy with the "why."
I get it. I really do. When you're toting a load of groceries, lacing up someone's skates, or listening to a symphony of reasons to stay up late, it's sometimes hard to be introspective. However, I've been asking little thinkers big questions for quite some time, and I've found that giving a kid the "what" without giving them the "why" is a missed opportunity.
Here are some very good reasons to make room for "why" in conversations with your kid, especially when giving life lessons like these:
You've probably heard the Chinese proverb "Tell me, I'll forget. Show me, I'll remember. Involve me, I'll understand." Well, it works. If we not only explain the reasons behind our rules, but let our kids actively participate in the discussion of them, the rules are more likely to stick. Why? Because they're more likely to make sense, but also because participation leads to feelings of ownership.
A hallmark of a good thinker is the ability to soak up a bunch of different viewpoints and evaluate them. "Because I said so" presents only one perspective (and no thinking), but an open discussion presents many. It's important for kids to learn to listen, and to recognize and appreciate others, even if they don't agree with them.
Going after "why" also teaches kids to think on their feet. There will one day come a situation when different priorities present themselves, or when two of these little gems of wisdom clash. For example, what about if being myself butts up against sharing? It's easier for a kid to weigh options if they've been part of a discussion about them.
Kids raised on "why" tend to grow up to be adults who think critically and communicate more effectively.
Discussing the reasons behind rules can encourage kids to suggest new rules of their own (no, kids aren't all anarchists). Including them in the reasoning behind the rules can inspire them to look for ways to improve them, which in turn assures them that their voice is important, and that we take them seriously.
Contrary to popular opinion, children do respond to logic and reasoning. Okay, maybe not so much during a tantrum, when their blood sugar is low, or when they're overdue for a nap. Nevertheless, for a kid, there's comfort in things that make sense, and in the belief that the big people around them will help them puzzle through things they don't understand.
When your kid does (only occasionally, of course) step outside of the status quo, they'll be more likely and more able to explain themselves if they're used to discussing "why" and giving proof and evidence. Ask yourself this: would you rather have your kid throw down and flat-out demand a puppy, or come to you calmly with a list of reasons why they should have one? You don't have to get the puppy, but still...
What about little nuggets of wisdom that... how do I say this... aren't so wise? Anyone else hear the whole "Sugar and spice/snips and snails" diatribe about girls and boys while they were growing up? How about advice to shove back when shoved by a bully? Let's face it, some of our rules and regulations have holes in them, and I'd rather have a kid pick them apart than follow them blindly to their own detriment.
It's true, kids who are raised on "why" instead of just "what," do tend to keep their parents on their toes. Discussions take time and energy, and quite often, they're ongoing. However, kids raised on "why" tend to grow up to be adults who think critically and communicate more effectively. They become active listeners with open, curious minds. They learn to take ownership of what they say and what they decide to do. That alone is probably worth a few extra minutes of "Tell me what you think."
And what of parents who get questioned? We grow up OK too, maybe a little more clear thinking and logical ourselves.
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