Why “Because I Say So” Can Be a Powerful Phrase to Use – Part Three
So often, parents I work with have troubles being the strong GPS or leader that their child needs. They say to me things like, “Really, it’s no big deal if my child has one more scoop of ice cream. My limit is not a hard and fast one that MUST be followed. So aren’t I being mean or too rigid by insisting on things going my way?” I should also add that those parents are often struggling with feeling angry and resentful with their children, and out of control.
You don’t need to set limits constantly, and nor should you. But the fact is, it’s appropriate for you to have firm limits on a lot of things. For one thing, when your child knows that it’s always one scoop of ice cream, you save a fight or at least an argument every time you go to the grocery store.
However equally important is the fact that your limit is much less arbitrary than your child’s request. Think about the ice cream example. Why might your impulse be to have only one scoop?
One scoop of ice cream is less sugar. It’s also less calories. It’s less expensive. And it helps your child learn to savor and enjoy things, without needing more.
Desserts nowadays are getting to epic proportions. People nowadays are also hitting epic proportions, with massive health costs. A child who learns that one scoop of ice cream is delicious and is what is normal, may not gain near as much weight as the child who always wants and gets the bigger portion.
Over and over I’ve seen how adult impulses around limits are often based on some logic that you aren’t aware of in the moment. You are way wiser than your child, and knowing that your child NEEDS firm boundaries, can help you not worry anymore about whether you are being arbitrary.
The great news is even if your limits are completely arbitrary, limit setting meets your child’s real and deep need for you to provide strong leadership. That enables them to relax and be kids, knowing that you have things handled. You’ll have less anxious kids who are able to be strong leaders themselves in time, because they are so much more adaptable and resilient.
Of course, we always lovingly support our child when they are upset about limits. Some children will need considerable work to help them get good at moving from mad at the limit, to sad about it. It’s work that will help keep your kids out of all sorts of harm as they get older!
A child who is hard to parent is often a child who has a hard life. So helping your strong willed child be adaptable, without breaking their will, is critical. Don’t make them wrong for what they want, and you’ll be able to help them deal with limits, without breaking their spirit. That’s a winning combination for raising a kid who both knows her own mind, and can work with others to make her vision happen!
One last note, one reason why we don’t want to be too bossy as parents, is because we value equality and democracy. It’s important to understand therefore how human maturation works. Yes, we are raising people who have equal rights to us. But until they are independent, they need us to meet their dependency needs. It’s like demanding a seedling be a full fledged tree. No amount of force will make it happen. But if you meet the seedlings needs, and give it time, it will grow. Our children truly do need roots and wings, and you being a wise but gentle leader, is a key part of the rich conditions your child needs to thrive.
So the next time you are floundering for what to say when your child is upset with a limit and is demanding to know why, connect to how hard it is for him to not get what he wants, and gently, but firmly say, “Because I said so.”
You may need to do some of your own work so that you are less reactive, and can truly empathize with your child. Once you do that though, it’s pure gold!
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