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Debra Kissen Headshot

Because I Said So: Old School Parenting in the Age of Choice

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FOOD PLATE NOT HUNGRY
Chris Fertnig via Getty Images

As an overindulgent parent of three young kids as well as a clinical psychologist, I never thought I would see the wisdom of the phrase, "Because I said so," but I have slowly but surely become a believer. We are living in an age of excess choices and options. "Do you want chicken nuggets or pizza? Do you want Dora or Sophia the First? Do you want to play baseball or basketball?" Whatever happened to a good, old-fashioned, "This is what we are doing and you don't have a say in the matter?"

In my clinical practice, I see many children (and adults) whose main challenge is low distress tolerance. For these cases, the main treatment goal is to practice managing and coping with life's frustrating, annoying moments. We can't eliminate all of the irritants out of life, but we certainly can get better at managing them. If you protect your child from experiencing discomfort, they will not develop a tool box to handle frustration. Life is hard and inflexible and therefore we must be strong and flexible to thrive.

One way to assist your child in learning to function in the face of discomfort is by not giving them a choice in what they will do or eat or engage in. I am certainly not advocating an authoritarian approach to parenting where it is ALWAYS "my way or the highway." Effective parenting is a balancing act between accommodating and pushing forward in the face of adversity.

So, the next time your child whines, "Why do I have to?" hold off on your impulse to explain, encourage and convince. Instead, offer up a good, old-fashioned, heaping serving of "because I said so." It may be uncomfortable for them (and for you) in that moment, but enhancing your child's distress tolerance is the most valuable gift you can give them.