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Explaining Things to Your Children

explainingI know that explaining things to your children is supposed to be a part of good parenting but I’m not sure about it, I’ve so often seen it done in a ‘this is why I’m smacking you’ kind of way. Although it obviously has its place in conversation, over-explaining a rule or an instruction to little children can just confuse them.

Especially if you’re explaining why you’ve just said ‘no’. In the eyes of a child, every explanation you give weakens your argument. Every new reason suggests that the last one wasn’t good enough by itself, which is confusing for a small child who starts to think  ‘hmmm, mummy seems to lack conviction on this point, I have to get to the bottom of this’.

Whenever I patiently gave considered lengthy explanations to my children when they were little, it just caused long arguments which I never won because they were much better at arguing than me. More tenacity, more energy. A greater need to be right.

I listened in on a mother at the seaside once, whose two-yr-old had asked if he could take some stones and pebbles home off the beach. When the answer was no there followed an extended argument during which every reason the mother came up with was met with a counter-argument, both became more and more angry with the other, and I finally lost interest when the mother began a long-winded explanation about the history of the coastal erosion of Britain’s beaches. (That old coastal erosion reason! My kids could destroy that!) I left the beach at that point and for all I know she is still explaining it to him now.

So no. I would suggest giving up the explaining when it’s a non-negotiable situation. Instead, give one succint relevant piece of information and then move on to a more interesting subject of conversation. And perfect your ‘it goes without saying’ tone of voice. This is very useful, it suggests ‘I know you already get this, sorry to treat you like an idiot’. It’s a tone of slight surprise, a sort of  ‘Oh! Do I really have to point this out..? Thought you would have known’ message. Subtly different to the ‘if you had half a brain I wouldn’t need to say this’ tone of voice which I don’t recommend, at least not until they’re teenagers and appreciate sarcasm.

As a parent, it helps to have some idea of your ‘goes without saying’ areas, whether they are in the moral values category or the more practical  ‘things we just do so that we can live together happily’ area of life. Things that need no explaining.

Here is some information I have given to my children down the years in the ‘goes without saying’ tone of voice, see if you can guess the behaviour or question which preceded these statements:

‘Because he doesn’t like it’

‘It’s cold outside’

‘People like it when you’re friendly’

‘It just makes life easier’

‘Then I won’t have to do it for you’

‘It’s not fair if one person ends up doing all the work’

‘Then she might share hers with you’

And – not one of mine, but could be useful for some of you – ‘Pebbles belong on the beach’

2 Responses

  1. Judy Weatherhead
    | Reply

    I think that person on the beach must have been me – I’ve just finished a long sermon about why it’s important to get to bed early when it’s school the next day. Next time I will edit my speech!

  2. The Mummy Scripts
    | Reply

    Short and to the point. Defintely the best way to deal with our mini barristers!

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