Stop Giving Non-Answers
Being a parent, your brain is constantly swimming in a sea of thoughts; am I doing the right thing, how can I improve, are all the bills paid, do I need anything from the store, what’s for dinner, etc. Children, being the beautiful curious creatures that they are, ask a lot of questions. This is the natural state of an intelligent human. Question asking leads to answers, which leads to knowledge. Of course, we are tired, we have a lot on our minds and we don’t have all the answers. This does not mean we should discourage our children from asking questions by getting frustrated with them when they do ask a million questions in a row.
There are a couple of statements that I like to refer to as non-answers. Giving these non-answers stops a child from asking questions and hinders their interest in learning. These are probably responses you picked up from your own childhood. If you continue to give these “answers’ it will tell your child, the same thing it told you as a child, communication is not important.
These things may seem harmless and insignificant. I promise you, they’re not.
“Because I said so.”
This is probably the number one non-answer I hear parents give their children. This closes the doors for negotiation. Which means you are no longer asking, if you did in the first place, you are now commanding your child. This re-enforces that you don’t have a real reason for why you are telling your child to do something, or maybe you do but are unwilling to give them a real answer. Which means, they have learned absolutely nothing but to obey. Teaching them to surrender to commands explains nothing about how life works as an adult. If you don’t explain why you are asking your child to do something then they won’t understand the thought process that comes along with decision making. In order to learn how a healthy thought process works, an adequate example must be provided.
This is not an answer, in it of itself. Of course, sometimes we have to say no. Example: when my daughter asks “Mom, can I have a cup of coffee too”? Obviously, the answer is no. This does not mean I should leave out the “why”. Explaining things before they even ask why is even better. It tells them that you, as the parent, have a good reason for why you are giving them the answer you are. They will appreciate that you care enough about them to explain it. My answer to my daughter’s question usually goes like this “No baby. You can have one sip of mommy’s coffee if you would like but you cannot have a whole cup to yourself. Coffee has too much caffeine. It is not good for your little body”. To which she would usually reply “Okay, but when I am a grown up I am going to have a whole cup to myself”. After a couple of times of this she switched to asking “Mommy, can I have a sip of your coffee?”, which means she accepted my answer and my reason for why she cannot have a whole cup.
“I don’t know.”
Again, this alone is not an answer. If your child is asking you a question about something you don’t have the answer to, there is nothing wrong with that. However, leaving it at that isn’t really fair. He asked you the question expecting you to provide the answer. If you genuinely don’t know, it is good to admit that (it tells him no one knows all the answers but that’s okay). It’s a good idea to add “let’s look it up together”. Then search the internet, or a book, if you have one on the question being asked, until you can provide him with the answer to the question. Not providing your child with answers to their questions can cause them to stop questioning things altogether. You want them to value knowledge. If they don’t get answers to their questions, you can guarantee they won’t view knowledge as a virtue.
“You have to.”
Unless you are using force, you can’t make someone do something. This statement is the quickest way to get into a power struggle. If this response worked, parenting the old school way, “my way or the highway”, would have worked better. It wouldn’t have caused “rebellion”. That way didn’t work, as forcing people usually doesn’t. As a little human being your child doesn’t want to be forced to do anything. They want to make their own choices and use their own minds.
I was trying to get my son to read the other day and he says “You can’t make me read mom”. To which I replied “You’re right, I can’t make you read, but it’s my job to encourage you to do the things that grow your brain. If you don’t want to read that is okay but every day you don’t read is a day you have lost of becoming better at reading.” Had I said “you have to” he may have been more frustrated when stating his initial statement (he was actually very calm) and he may have even had a meltdown at the overwhelming fact that we were about to engage in a forceful argument. I explained my position and gave him a chance to use his own mind and make his own choice. He chose to read that night.
When you stop giving these non-answers and start giving real ones your children will be excited to have conversations with you. You will reduce the number of times you are likely to engage in a power struggle. They will be more eager to engage in educational activities with you. They will treat your thoughts with integrity. They will respect that their parents gave them answers when they asked for them and they will do the same thing for themselves when they are older.