When explaining backfires


 It’s been a special time for my husband, John and I because we had a wonderful party to celebrate our 50thwedding anniversary. Shortly we are heading off on an Alaska cruise, our gift to each other. So, the next newsletter will be cancelled while we enjoy our holiday.

Meanwhile, let’s talk about talking. It’s so easy to get caught in the trap of over-explaining to our children.

When do we explain, and when do we act?

 Should We Always Explain?

It was at the end of my daughter’s fourth birthday party that Erika lost it. She was crying as if her heart would break, she was kicking her feet making it next to impossible for her Mom to help her into her boots and she was throwing her body back and forth.

Her Mom stayed cool. In a soft voice she was saying, “Erika, I know you don’t want to leave but the party’s over. Erika, I am sorry you are unhappy but it’s time to leave.” The explanations went on and on.

Ericka did not hear a word.

Finally, Mom picked up the boots in one hand and the child in the other and went to the car. A few minutes later, I saw Erika fast asleep in her car seat.

Whew. Sometimes, explaining what is happening to our children makes no sense whatsoever.

In my book Who’s in Charge, AnywayI say:  “’I will never say to my child, you’ll do it because I said so.’ We don’t want to see our children being raised to be mindlessly obedient and to do what they’re told without understanding the reasons. Explaining the rules and expectations helps our children to learn why we do what we do. They can understand that decisions are not always simple and that there are often unseen long-term consequences to our choices.

Which is all very well and good, but over-explaining can easily backfire.

First, our explanations are often far too complex for young children. While a short, simple reason is fine, they are too little to understand long explanations. They aren’t ready to follow and act on adult logic. Toddlers and preschoolers are waiting to see what we’re going to do. While we talk, they wait. We can explain to three-year-old Olivia that she must sit in her car seat because it’s safe. We can even talk about what might happen in an accident if she were sitting with just a regular seat belt. But until we actually put her in the seat or give her the choice to sit in her car seat or stay home, she just won’t get it.

I talk to a lot of parents who believe that if we explain the situation, the kids will automatically change their behavior to meet our needs. The reality often is that the children aren’t even sure what is being asked of them.

Five-year-old Shayla runs into the house in her muddy shoes and races into the kitchen, leaving dirty footprints in her wake. Her mom rushes in and says, ‘Shayla, I just washed that floor.’ ‘Oh,’ is the neutral response as Shayla continues on her way, making even more mess.

‘Shayla, I just washed that floor!’ her mom shrieks as she grabs her, takes her to the back door and removes the offending shoes. Shayla still doesn’t get it.

If her mom had said, ‘Shayla, shoes off now. I just washed that floor and you’re making it dirty again’, the five-year-old would know what to do and why. But she just didn’t get the connection between the job her mom had done (so she washed the floor, so what, who cares, certainly not Shayla who’s keen to get into the house), and the behavior that was required. You need to tell her in simple language exactly what you need from her.

Children quickly learn that they can forestall their parents by asking questions, and then more questions. If we’re determined to explain we will keep talking. Of course, we need to let our kids know the rules and expectations. But not in long repetitive lectures.  Once they know what’s expected it’s time for us to act.

And when our kids are tired or over-stimulated the last thing they need from us is talk.

So, if necessary you can quickly remind your child of the expectation, and then take action.

Actions, as they say, speak louder than words and this is definitely the case with our children.

Digital Books Make Parenting Information More Accessible.

There are times when digital is the perfect answer and let’s face it, on a holiday having access to hundreds of books on one small tablet is ideal. I always have my kindle with me when I travel.

There are lots of times when a busy parent would like to be able to simply read and my books are digital and make it easier for you to take a look.

Two of my parenting books started as print versions but the third is only digital. The first two are also now in digital format. Who’s in Charge Anyway?talks about roots. It provides a clear road map for parent to focus on the tough but rewarding job of raising children to be responsible, self-disciplined adults. But Nobody Told Me I’d Ever Have to Leave Home talks about raising children to become capable young men and women. Vive la Différence addresses some special situations.

I am told the books are down to earth and common sense as well as easy to read. If you want some basic parenting tips and information these books are a good place to start.



Posted in Discipline, Family Concerns, News, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlers | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *