I am an over-explainer. It’s a weird trait for an introvert, but I feel my kids will benefit from a full explanation and understanding of situations, decisions, and circumstances. But sometimes the questions are just. Too. MUCH! My husband and I went to a parenting talk given by the brilliant psychologist, John Rosemond, many years ago. We learned a lot, but the simplest, most lasting take-away for me was his teaching on saying “No. ‘He suggests that when you say “No” and your child asks for a reason or explanation, one of the five following answers always fits the bill:

  1. You aren’t old enough.
  2. It’s not safe.
  3. We aren’t going to spend our money that way.
  4. We aren’t going to spend our time that way.
  5. That isn’t consistent with our family values.

If you can remember these five answers, your life as a parent will instantly become easier, especially if you tend to be an over-explainer like me. They are simple, and they remind your kids of what is important.

THE REASONS

The only sticky widget with “You aren’t old enough” is remembering at what age you allowed child #1 certain privileges like sleepovers or divide-and-conquer grocery shopping so you can be fair and consistent with subsequent kids. My sister-in-law raised five kids and literally kept of list of such things, God bless her!

“It’s not safe” is the easiest one. I told both of our girls from a very early age that one of my main jobs was to keep them safe. They know I mean it.

I especially love #3, “We aren’t going to spend our money that way. It is so much better than, “We can’t afford it,” which is rarely accurate. Having enough money for something is rarely the deciding factor for purchasing, and kids can handle that nuance.

“We aren’t going to spend our time that way” is so much better than “we don’t have time” which just invites debate (at least in my house). This one will get you out of a lot of drudgery. You are the parent. YOU decide how the family time is spent.

Before you roll these out (which you MUST do! I promise you’ll love it!), make sure you have given your family values some serious thought. I’m not suggesting you write a manifesto. I’m trying to save you time and effort, not add burden. If you are curious about ours, check out this article. This is the trickiest, most involved, most important answer you can give your kids. They need to know what your family values are, and the values need to be things you can consistently uphold. Your kids are smart. Make sure you don’t paint yourself into a corner!

THE IMPORTANCE

These reasons remind your children that decisions regarding how to spend time and money, what is safe, what is age appropriate, and most importantly, your family values, are to be made by adults. These answers tend to stimulate productive, educational discussion rather than debate or fussing. But often, when my kids hear one of these, they just move on. They know we won’t waver, and they don’t want a life lecture. Win!

THE RESULT

If you find yourself unable to give one of the five reasons for your “No” you might need to rethink your motivations. Learning this concept has actually lead to me saying “Yes” to my kids more often. “No” is less of a battle, so “yes” seems somehow more appealing, or at least worth consideration. When I’m tempted to say no, I quickly run through my mental list of reasons. If none apply, I’m more likely to say yes. It’s usually something I feel I don’t have the energy for, like playing a board game. The yes is reluctant but without regret in retrospect.

Don’t get me wrong. I still explain til I’m blue in the face from time to time. But when I just can’t field another question, or when I see no value in belaboring the point at hand, I slap down one of these five reasons and move on with my day, guilt free, pink-faced, and with energy to spare!

THE EXCEPTION

I rarely say “Because I said so.” I think it is sometimes snarky short-speak for “You are the child and I am the parent,” “Respect my authority,” or “I don’t feel like discussing this.” One of the five above almost always works instead. But not always. Sometimes, you just can’t help yourself. And that’s OK. We are allowed to blow a gasket (or a basket, as Delaney said when she was little) sometimes. This parenting thing is hard.

I hope you tuck this pearl in your parenting tool belt and use it often. It may be one of the main reasons I am still sane.

Repeat after me:

  1. You aren’t old enough.
  2. It’s not safe.
  3. We aren’t going to spend our money that way.
  4. We aren’t going to spend our time that way.
  5. That isn’t consistent with our family values.

Good, you are ready. Take charge!

Originally published on the author’s blog 

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Joanne Jarrett

I am Joanne Jarrett MD, a retired family physician, stay at home mom of 12 and 14 year old girls, blogger, and designer at my fledgling business, Shelfie Shoppe. 

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