The Children Want to Know Why... | Teaching Self-Government

The Children Want to Know Why...

Confused/thinking boy

I once received a note from a reader about her 14-year-old son who was quite the thinker. He always wanted to know “Why?” about everything, which is wonderful, but it was leading to problems respecting authority. 

The dad told the son he was being flippant for always questioning him. He became even madder when the son asked why the behavior was flippant. The mom could see both sides of the problem: the dad wanted obedience, and the son had an honest question about his behavior. 

The son truly didn’t understand how questioning everything was disrespectful. He did chores when asked, but there were times he asked a lot of questions. The mom wanted to know what I would do in this situation. 

I think it’s good to be curious and ask questions. Lots of children are like this, and it can be challenging for parents. However, if a parent gives a “No” answer and the child doesn't say “OK,” he’s forgetting how to accept a “No” answer. The only other acceptable option is to disagree appropriately. If the child needs to disagree appropriately, he either believes the parent doesn’t understand something, or the child wants to understand something more. When a “Yes” or a “No” is given after the disagreement, the answer from the son needs to be “OK.” Then he needs to drop the subject. 

The other thing a curious son could be telling his parents is that he needs more understanding to respect their authority. For some reason he could feel like he’s being bossed instead of taught. 

When I was around 14, if my father told me “No” for something, I would say, "Why?" He would then counter with, "Because I’m the boss." It’s probably the same line his father used on him. I wouldn't say anything after that because even my young brain understood my dad's comment meant he won the power struggle before it even started. 

The thing is, I really wanted to know why. I’m a very logical person. A parent who simply told me what to do without teaching me didn't have my trust or respect. I wanted to know why so that I could judge a situation for myself. 

Later in life, I was trained on the proper use of rationales and realized that using rationales correctly would have helped me growing up. For the record, “I'm the boss" is a rationale, but a terrible one. 

After I describe a negative behavior, I explain why it’s a bad choice. "When you pull on my leg to get my attention, I get bothered. I don't like my leg pulled, so then I don't want to listen to what you want." 

Then I describe the correct behavior. "What you should have done was look at me and say, ‘Excuse me mom…’”

Then I give another rationale to explain why that choice is the best. "When you say, 'Excuse me mom...' I will always stop what I’m doing to listen to you because it’s polite. Polite words get my attention." 

I always try to give rationales that matter to the children. Why is my four-year-old really pulling on my leg? To get my attention. So, this gives me an opportunity to teach him the best way to get my attention. 

Here’s another rationale example: "When you choose not to do your chore correctly the first time, you’re really choosing to miss play time because then you have to do the chore two times." 

Try to stay away from things like, "You didn't clean your room, so now my house isn't clean."  That rationale means nothing. Who really cares about changing their behavior for someone else's clean house? Pick a rationale that will mean something to your children. 

Speaking as a person who used to always ask why, this personality trait is a good one. In time this questioning will lead children to truth and happiness. Nurture it and have patience. I know it’s hard and takes time to answer all the questions. I promise that if you give the answers during teaching as rationales, you won’t have as many questions and will earn more respect from your children. 

Some people think that a perfect child is one who never asks questions. But we’re not in the business of making perfect children. It can't be done! We‘re making joyful adults who have solid relationships with God and family, know their missions in life and can't wait to fight for them. Embrace questions and use them as a jumping-off point to have meaningful relationships with your children. Nurture the questions, and your children will go far.