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It's Okay to Say "Because I said so!"

Amy Welborn posts about an overheard conversation between two women who are pre-K teachers. They were discussing the state accreditation process for pre-K programs.

The woman who'd been through it gave some tips. "Be sure you know the birthdates of the youngest and oldest in your room. They'll ask. You have to know it." "Always, always wash your hands. Come in the room, and the first thing, wash your hands." (can't argue with that). "Put up a bulletin board that's got all the children's photos on it that says something like 'Our school family.' They like that."

But here's what got me, and this is the part where I was so, so tempted to join in and just ask, "WHAT?" In hindsight, I should have. They wouldn't have minded, and it would have been enlightening.

They commiserated on the fact that state standards don't allow them to tell the children to walk in lines. I have no idea why and I have no idea what the alternative is.

They also shook their heads that they're not allowed to simply say "No" or "don't" to a child. "You have to give them a choice," one said to the other, who nodded. And then they both sighed.

After reading this I am not sighing. I am gritting my teeth. Children are not miniature adults. They do not have the reasoning abilities of adults. They do not need detailed explanations and justifications for the directions of adults. They need to learn discipline and obedience. They need to learn their wants are not the guiding principles for their behavior. They need to be kept safe by adults. This does not mean that we just bark out orders. Marketing and persuasion are important features of dealing with children. My kids were not too crazy about broccoli until I called it dinosaur trees. Then it was cool. Walking in a straight line makes it easier for a teacher to get a gaggle of kids from point A to point B safely. If she wants to make it a game and call it follow-the-leader, that is fine. However, if one child doesn’t want to play follow-the-leader, that shouldn’t excuse him from staying in line.

Thinking back on my days with toddlers and pre-schoolers, I can’t imagine getting along without the words “no” and “don’t”.

  • “Don’t put peanut butter in your sister’s hair.”
  • “No, you may not jump off the balcony on to the couch”
  • “Don’t flush toys down the toilet.”
  • “No, you may not put a frog in the bathtub.”

I really believe those who are advocating this always cooperative/never directive approach to teaching children have never actually raised children themselves. It may fit their theoretical psychological models, but sometimes in the real world you just have to say, “Do it because I said so!”


Christina said…
This reminds me of something I read back in "teacher school". The hottest thing in progressive education these days is to have a democratic classroom, which for some translates into the inmates running the asylum.

One woman, out of the many education scholars whose works I had to read, argued that there is a place for traditional methods in the classroom, even for the progressive teacher. She said this is especially the case for students who grow up in homes where parents exert absolute authority. If teachers are not willing to wield their position properly, children who expect adults to be authoritative will not take them seriously. In short, "because I said so" is sometimes a necessary and appropriate approach.

There is a balance to be struck between exercising authority in order to teach good skills and habits, and giving kids a DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE amount of autonomy.

It is a pity the accreditation process these women face does not recognice this.
Milehimama said…
I was just thinking about this today, the second day of summer vacation, when I felt the NEED to post clearly written rules on the wall.

All of the "professional" books and counselors for bipolar/mood disordered children have advised to always provide choices and phrase things positively - do not say "No Yelling", say "Use your inside voice!". Not "Don't hit", but rather "Remember to respect other's personal space!".

Yeah. My boys need more specific direction and firmer guidelines. Included on our list today? "Do Not Body Slam the Bathroom Door to Unlock It" and "Do Not Throw Legos, especially at living creatures such as the cat, turtle, or toddler".

Mama Says
Little Sister said…
Not only is it supposed to be "democratic" like this in the classroom, but also the home. In the psychology and sociology college textbooks it is taught that democracy is the only best way to rear a child and must always include choices for the kid to make irregardless of age. I sat in my lecture halls, thinking "this stuff actually works!?!"
Catholic Mom said…
Little Sister,
Let me tell you how well it works: My second son was very precocious and very verbal. We were out to dinner when he was right around two. He kept dunking his dinner roll into his glass of water. I told him to stop dunking his roll or I would take away his little Hot Wheels cars that he carried with him everywhere. He thought for a brief moment, handed me the cars, and kept on dunking.

The kind of giving choices that does work is when you are trying offer some autonomy but limit the scope of choices. For example, instead of saying what do you want to wear, you say "Do you want to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt?" Instead of saying what do you want for dinner you say,"Do you want spaghetti or chicken?"

Read this for some more discussion of what happens when parents refuse to exercise their parental authority.

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