Why, Why, and How: Parenting, Rules, and Curious Kids




Did you ever hear “because I said so” form your parents when you were growing up? Did it work for you? Did it satisfy your curiosity? Did it get you to stop doing whatever you were doing that drove your parents bonkers? Did it encourage you to make better decisions for yourself?

Yeah… me neither.

I’m not saying the phrase hasn’t slipped out of my mouth every now and again, but I learned a while ago that “because I said so” falls pretty flat with my kids. If I use a serious enough tone, it will work for the moment – get them to stop whatever it is I need them to stop doing… but in the long run, it doesn’t help them make the decision to not do it again. In fact, they’re likely to do it later that very day.

I’ve been a #TalkEarly ambassador with Responsibility.org for a couple years now, and at our last summit in DC, we had a conversation about this very thing. Jessica Lahey (author of The Gift of Failure) spoke to us about how kids like to know “the why” behind decisions, especially young kids. They also tend to have a heightened sense of justice, so when kids ask or challenge you on something, teaching them that these rules are based in safety is incredibly important.

When kids know the rules are safety based, they are more likely to follow than if you give them a ‘because I said so,’ type of response. Click To Tweet

We find “safety-based” rules have worked pretty well in our house. In fact, when our kids challenged on certain rules/decisions, we found all we had to say most of the time was “It’s for safety. We want to keep you safe”. It worked when they challenged us on carseats, too much sugar, excessive screen time…

It still works on my seven year old, but not so much on my ten year old anymore. He is no longer satisfied with the “why” – he already knows it’s for safety. He now wants to know “how”. How does it keep him safe. Some of this is his curious nature, but I suspect he’s also trying to see if he can poke holes in my reasoning… to see if my house rules are really as solid as I would lead them to believe.

When it comes to rules, kids have a deep need to know why. Now that my son is older, he wants to know not only why, but how. Click To Tweet

Being a #TalkEarly ambassador has really helped me focus on cultivating a “culture of conversation” in my home. So instead of shutting my oldest son down when he challenges certain rules, we talk (sometimes for a long time because he likes to know how everything works and omg) … and I bring to the table whatever information I can to satisfy his “how” questions.

When it’s about sugar, we talk about stress hormones, cognitive function, and the addictive cycle.

If it’s about screen time, we talk about losing gray matter in our brains and it’s affect on concentration and impulse control.

We even talk about why kids shouldn’t drink alcohol. Last year around the holidays, my son was extremely curious about why he couldn’t just have a taste – a teeny tiny sip to see what it tastes like. This year, the conversation has already come up again, and I want to make sure I satisfy his “how” questions.

Responsibility.org also has a program targeting parents of tweens called Ask Listen Learn, and I find it’s becoming a good resource for me. We even found a video about how alcohol affects the developing cerebellum.

My kids are not shy about informing me that this friend gets to have candy everyday, or that friend gets to play video games on weekdays. In fact, there are a number of reasons that parents often think “a sip” of alcohol for their kids is no big deal… but we have data now that we didn’t have generations ago.



All I can do is let them know that every house and every child is different – parents make decisions based on a variety of things. My kids are avid learners, so I impart to them that I want to be an avid learner too. I take my role as their mother very seriously, and as I become more and more informed, I try to make better and better decisions for my family.

To me, part of being a good mother means continuing to learn to be a better one. Click To Tweet

If you’re a parent of young kids, I encourage you to visit the #TalkEarly page for more information on building a lifetime of conversations with kids around alcohol responsibility.

As far as enforcing rules goes, I’m finding what works better than “because I said so” is “because I love you, and want to keep you safe”…

and I’m keeping good data in my back pocket for my ten year old just in case.


*This post is sponsored by Responsibility.org. All opinions are always my own.





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