Why Can’t I? What to Say to Help Your Child Accept Your Rules

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08 Nov 2012

Discipline your son and he will give you peace and he will give pleasures to your soul.

– Proverbs 29:17

“Why?” is a very versatile question. Sometimes children ask “why” questions because they are curious about the world around them.”Why is the sky blue?”

They will sometimes ask “why?” as a way to tell you they are worried: “Why do I have to go to the doctor?”

There is also a third–and very popular–reason why children ask “why.” They use it as a way to fight against the limits that you set. “Why” questions can be used to defy you and sidetrack you from sticking to your guns.

For example:

“Why can’t I have Shabbos cereal during the week?”

“Why do I have to wear this stupid coat?”

“Why won’t you let me have another video game?”

These kinds of questions should send up a red flag.

Children enjoy a good debate and love to try to get you to change your mind. They have plenty of energy for this task. They will ask and ask as a way to confuse you. They hope that the endless questions will wear down all your resistance. They force you into a position where you feel you need to explain yourself and come up with arguments to support your rules. It is a technique that I think I have seen Bugs Bunny use.

In this situation it is effective to reflect children’s feelings and gently and firmly turn the question back to them.

You can say:

“You seem sad about the Shabbos cereal rule. Why do you think we have that rule?”

“It sounds like you’re annoyed with your coat. Why do you think it is important for people to wear coats?”

“You wish you could get that video game. Can you tell me why you can’t get it?”

This approach is a soft way of reminding your child that you understand his or her frustration but you are confident and staunch in your ability to maintain your non-negotiable rules. You will not be drawn into a series of circular and moot arguments.

Ironically, experts have found that children feel more comfortable and secure when parents do not back down from the rules they set. Although they will fight long and hard, children want to lose these arguments. As soon as they see you mean business they will quickly leave you alone. It is a way for parents to respond without actually saying the hated “no.”

This technique also benefits children in other ways. It requires children to think about why rules are important and what the reasons are behind rules. It actually reinforces the limits we have set in their minds. They gain a perspective they otherwise would not have. It also forces the child to take your answer more seriously and become more cooperative.


Adina Soclof, MS. CCC-SLP, works as a Parent Educator for Bellefaire Jewish Children’s Bureau facilitating How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk workshops as well as workshops based on Siblings Without Rivalry. Adina also runs parentingsimply.com.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.