This Discipline Tip Will Save Your Sanity


the power of why

If there is anything that can push a mom over the edge, it’s children who don’t do what they’re told or listen to mom’s instructions. My son doesn’t like to listen to my lectures about why something is bad for him, good for him, or off limits to him (Imagine that!). So I try not to overwhelm him with an avalanche of words. But there are times he needs to hear what I have to say and comply with my requests.

That’s why this simple discipline tip I dug out of research done by a Harvard scientist is so helpful. It gets my son to listen and comply. It’s called “the power of why” and not only will it help you make communication headway, it also will teach your teen to think about others. Yes, it’s possible! Here’s how.

But First, the Groundwork

Before I share the discipline tip with you, we need to lay a little groundwork. When giving kids rules to follow, we must be very clear about our requests, the specifics of our expectations, and where the line is drawn. Why? Because if we don’t, they’ll push back to find the squishy edges.

Instead of saying, “Put that phone away in a few minutes,” try this: “Hey, put your phone away in 10 minutes because we’re eating at 6.”  The second approach gives a very clear boundary and also contains the discipline tip that will preserve your sanity—it gives the why.

The Power of “Why”

Harvard researcher Ellen Langer made an amazing discovery when she conducted research into why people agree to do things when asked. Research says that if people understand why you ask them to do something, they’re more likely to do what you ask. When we discipline our children, there is one word that powerfully conveys the why behind our decisions: “because.”

In her study, she had people ask to cut in line at a copy machine, three different ways:

  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  • “Excuse me, I have 5 pages. May I use the Xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

The two requests with “because” got more than 90 percent compliance. The one without got 60 percent.

The Context “Because” Provides

When we tell our kids the reason for a request, it helps them look past themselves and process the request beyond its face value. Knowing the context gives them the chance to build their decision-making skills instead of giving an automatic, mindless no.

Here’s an example to show some contrast: “Andrew, I want you to get your school clothes out tonight.” Boom. Sure, he should do what I ask no matter how I ask it, but why not give him a better shot at making the right choice?  “Andrew, I want you to get your school clothes out tonight because I don’t want to run late tomorrow; I need to be on time for work.”

Before You Ask

I am not in the habit, yet, of working “because” into my requests, but when I do say it, my son’s compliance goes way up. Of course, we all need to brush up on our communication skills with our kids, so check out yours before you give this idea a try. Then, let us know how it works for you.

What do you think about the power of why? 

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