Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do: 9) Tell Your Kids Why

dad talking with sonWe all want our children to be kind to others, respectful, and do the right thing even when it’s difficult or unpopular.

To achieve that our kids need to understand moral principles. But it’s very easy as busy parents to forget that and focus on moral behavior. Do you find yourself repeatedly saying things to your kids like…

  • Please wash your hands after you use the bathroom
  • Stop hitting your sister
  • Please don’t talk with your month full

Notice how each of these statements tells a child WHAT to do, but not WHY to do it. There’s no moral principle being taught.

Without a good understanding of moral principles, children tend to drift in one of two directions.  Either they become self-absorbed, doing what they want for themselves at that moment, or they become fearful, obedient robots who never do anything wrong but are not able to think for themselves either. I don’t think any parent wants their kids to end up in either of those places.

So, instead of just telling your kids what to do, try explaining why…

  • Please wash your hands after you use the bathroom, because you have germs on your hands and we don’t want you to get sick.
  • Stop hitting your sister. We love her very much and we don’t want to see her hurt.
  • Please don’t talk with your month full, because it’s respectful of the other people at the table.

There are at least three important benefits to explaining why.

  1. Your child is more likely to obey you in that moment when they understand why.
  2. Your child is more likely to respect you because they see that you are not just acting arbitrarily and bossy but have a reason for your request.
  3. Your child is more likely to behave well on their own in the future because they understand the moral principle behind the behavior.

Sometimes the reason why may seem obvious. Or perhaps you’ve explained why a dozen times before. But you know from experience, nothing is quite as obvious as it should be to a child. At one time I thought it was obvious why it’s not a good idea to hide dirty underpants in the back of a closet. I thought no explanation was needed as to why you shouldn’t pick your sisters scabs.

From a pure time-saving perspective, you don’t have time to NOT take the extra 15-30 seconds to explain to your kids why they should do what you’re asking them to do. But of course, telling your kids why not only saves time in the long run but also helps them become healthy, responsible adults.


  1. Have you been intentionally explaining the why in addition to the what to your children?
  2. If you have, what impact have you seen this have on your children?
  3. If not, what do you think about giving it a try for a week and then post a comment and let us know how it went?

8 ) Make a Decision <– Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do

14 Responses to “Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do: 9) Tell Your Kids Why”

  1. Paul, a great post. We can get our kids to but into what we communicate if we help them see cause and effect clearly, in much the same way we do with employees or peers.

  2. I totally agree Paul. I have a 15 month old so i am not quite at this stage yet but will keep this post. Kids do need to know why they are being told “no” to avoid fear and also to develop logical thinking skills…

  3. Did I miss #8? I looked for it on the home page, but it seems to skip from 7 to 9. Reader error, I’m sure.

    I took a class once on kids listening to parents or something or other and the speaker made a pretty good point: he used to be an explainer until he joined the military and it was there he understood that young kids should learn to follow commands on command.

    No one really has time to explain “get out of the street because a car is coming so you might get badly hurt.” Kids need to move when their parents say move in preparation for certain situations.

    I’ll pick this up on my own blog, I guess. But I say soooooo often wash your hands, stop hitting your sister, chew with your mouth closed that if I had to add glossaries and indices, I’d go crazier than I already am.

    Oops. Haha. Blog post written here in your comments.

    • Hi Erica, #8 is Make a Decision

      I snuck it by you by experimenting with what I thought would be a more compelling title. 😉

      I’m not saying children shouldn’t learn to follow commands or that there aren’t occasions where the why can be left out, but wouldn’t you agree that the “get out of the street” occasions are a small minority? And even for people in the military, only a small percentage of decisions are simply following orders. The vast majority – how they follow orders, how they interact with their peers, what they do while off-duty – are decisions we would hope would be based on moral principles, right?

  4. I for one have to slow down and add the 2nd half of the equation…thank you very much for this reminder to do so : )


  1. 7 Tips to Making Quicker Decisions | Live Intentionally - February 22, 2011

    […] 7) Focus on Your Strengths <– Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do –> 9) Tell Your Kids Why […]

  2. Tweets that mention Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do: 9) Tell Your Kids Why | Live Intentionally -- - February 22, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paul Steinbrueck, Megan Burns and PIMike, Scott Goldsmith. Scott Goldsmith said: @paulsteinbrueck: Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do: 9) Tell Your Kids Why – // I recently learned this lesson. #fb […]

  3. Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do: 10) Free Your Mind | Live Intentionally - February 24, 2011

    […] 9) Tell Your Kids Why <– Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do […]

  4. Things You Don’t Have Time NOT to Do | Live Intentionally - March 3, 2011

    […] Tell Your Kids Why […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.