When a child understands why a rule is important, it is much easier for that child to obey the rule. Too often adults are inclined to simply “bark” orders to a child with no explanation whatsoever. This leaves a child feeling somewhat like a puppet and unimportant. In addition, the child may simply obey the command for the moment, but have no reason to continue to obey.
Taking just a few seconds to explain reasons to a child has much benefit. When a teacher or parent explains reasons, the child feels drawn into the decision-making process and feels a part of accomplishing something important. The child then begins to think in an analytical manner and apply the principals involved to other actions. The child also begins to consider the feelings of others and the environmental effects.
It would seem that we adults have a tendency to think that children cannot understand a great deal, so we just skip over explanations. Actually, children are capable of understanding and reasoning much more than we often give them credit for doing. They are not a different species! They may not have the experiences to grasp all that we tell them, but they can understand much and the explanations we give start them on the path to adulthood and decision making that involves others as well as self.
If a child understands that a behavior is affecting another person negatively, that same child is more apt to evaluate his/her own action in another situation as to whether it is affecting others in a good or bad way. This is especially true when adults include in explanations such statements as, “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” Children tend to act on impulse. Explanations help children learn to think before they act. This is part of growing up.
When adults take the time to explain reasons, a feeling of teamwork is often established. Children feel as though the adult considers them important when that adult takes the time to explain reasons. This takes away some of the rebellious attitude often encountered in forcing a child to obey. They begin to feel part of a bigger cause than just self. The children take on a feeling of responsibility for accomplishing that cause and are more apt to continue the proper action when away from the adult.
It is good to remember that telling is not teaching. Unless a child takes something to heart and applies it to everyday actions, that child has not really learned that thing. Our goal is to develop adults who act properly out of desire to do so, not simply because they have been told they should. Without explanations, what has been told simply does not stay with the child. We want adults that consider the feelings of those around them and act in such ways as to get along in society. We will not accomplish this goal unless children learn reasons for good behavior.