Guest Post by Dr. Tiffanie Noonan
“Because I said so…”
Somedays it feels like it would be easier if our children would just say “yes”.
I get it! I mean, isn’t the point of having children so that we have people that just agree with us? Our own tribe of people who think that we are brilliant… Ha! That may be stretching it A LOT; however, at times it seems that a common parenting paradigm inadvertently promotes that approach.
The purpose of this article is to help you wrap your head around why you should CELEBRATE when your child questions you. Celebrate when they are questioning the teachers or other people in their lives that might be considered authority figures. Even on those days when a compliant “yes, Mom” would be easier (uh, is it just me?).
As a parent, you have hopes for your children that go beyond just getting through the day. Most parents I have talked to through my career as a pediatrician and as a parenting coach want their children to grow up with the skills to lead happy, fulfilling lives: self-motivation, critical thinking, resilience, etc. These skills develop and are affected by the environment in which they are raised.
How we parent matters!
Today, let’s take a deeper look at critical thinking.
According to the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report for 2020, critical thinking is a key skill for success (along with complex problem solving, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility). Not one place in this report is “unquestioning compliance” listed as an important component to future job success. Believe me, I tried to find it ?!
What is critical thinking? It is the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. The ability to analyze statements and determine their validity in support of a conclusion. Imperative in this ability is the willingness to ask questions and to question the “authorities” who are presenting their own conclusions.
Hmm… willingness to question the authorities?
How does that develop?
Like most things, it starts at home!
A parent’s time of being the “authority figure” in their child’s life isn’t nearly as long as most of us would like to think. It is, however, a critical time in their development. It is in those early years when children are learning how the world works. When they are learning to trust themselves. I would like to present the concept that it is incredibly important that their security is not based on following the rules.
Without realizing the actual long term effects, are you doing the following:
Stating rules that children are expected to follow…
Punishing for saying no…
Explaining yourself with the words “because I said so”…
(No judgment here! Not so many years ago those seemed normal to me as well until I started to really learn about the science of how our brain develops and learned a new way of connecting with my children.)
These are all common in an authoritarian home environment. Often inadvertently, parents who promote this are teaching their children to blindly accept whatever a person of authority says. Teaching them to NOT think for themselves. It has long been shown that when children are raised in this environment, when they reach college they find it very challenging to accept and adopt the relativistic attitude crucial for critical thinking. Moving beyond the mindset that “it is fact because that important person said so” requires a person to feel safe in expressing differing opinions and exploring alternatives. A skill crucial for the very things that many parents say they want for their children can go undeveloped or underdeveloped because we (adults) think kids are supposed to do what we say.
So, what DO you do? How can you positively influence the development of critical thinking skills in your children?
First, you start with the willingness to look at your own perceptions of how compliant children should be; the willingness to question what YOU think. What message are you sending when you enforce the idea that your child must blindly do what you say?
Get curious as a parent and learn to question your own rules. Be willing to open lines of communication and promote listening by all sides. Be willing to be wrong when you think you know what is best for someone else – even when that someone else is your child.
This can be done in a way that is respectful to both you and your child. Teach them why you may have set limits based on the values behind what you say. Ask them, so you understand, why they may have a different opinion. Let them express themselves. Let them think.
Your children will be all the healthier and happier for it.
Can I let you in on a secret? You may become happier as well! Certainly, in my experience, children who understand the rationale behind certain limits and are given space to think for themselves become naturally cooperative.
In the most reliable reference I could find for this article, when asked if he thought it was OK to say no to me, my 8-year-old son replied, “of course Mom, you don’t know everything”.
So true, little man. So true. Even when I wish I did.
None of us do.
I could not be happier to know that my child doesn’t think I know everything. I hope he never believes that what the person in “authority” says is automatically right for him. If (when?) that “authority figure” is a drug-dealing teen down the street, the cool kid, or his boss, I want him to know that he can trust his own ability to determine what is right for him. To THINK through a situation to come to the conclusion that makes the most sense. To think critically…
And that starts with my willingness to be wrong and to hear him say “no”.
Dr. Tiffanie Noonan is a Pediatrician, certified Parenting Coach, and founder of EPIC Parenting. As an advocate for empowering children with a strong sense of self-worth, internal motivation, and empathy, Dr. Noonan speaks and writes extensively to share her message as well as serve as Board Secretary for Parenting 2.0’s educational non-profit, The Global Presence. She lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and 2 sons. Connect with Tiffanie: website, Facebook, Twitter.