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Journal Kids

tell me why?

Oh Joy

Oh Joy

I consider myself a pretty happy and positive person. And I am trying to raise pretty happy and positive children.

As Ruby get older (and expresses more and more opinions), I have started to hear things come out of her mouth like, "Gross!", "Yuck!" or "I don't like that"—usually in response to a new food or to clothes I pick out that she doesn't want to wear. Initially, my response was to tell her that it wasn't nice to say things like that. (My least favorite type of people are those who complain about everything but do nothing to fix it…so I certainly didn't want to be raising a complainer).

But then I realized that it's okay not to like something…there are things we all don't like. Rather than complain about something just for the sake of it, I now challenge her to tell me why she doesn't like something. If she doesn't want to eat a certain food, then she has to at least try it once and then tell me why she doesn't like it. If it's because it's too bitter or the texture is weird, then I know it's something that her mini tastebuds just aren't ready for yet. But if it's just because it's "green" or because she doesn't want to, then it's not a good enough reason for me. Or if she doesn't want to wear an outfit that I picked out for her and her reason is because "the dress doesn't twirl and my friends will like it better if it twirls". Well, then that's when I know her real motives and the fact that even at four, kids are already aware of wanting to please their friends. Then, that helps me decide if I'll oblige her and change her outfit or if it's a "you get what you get and you don't get upset" situation.

If you ask anyone (not just a kid) why they don't like something, the answer you receive sometimes informs SO much more than the original point of the conversation…

Do you guys use this tactic at all? It's something that's been helping us a lot with a 4-year-old going on 14-year-old!


  1. I want my daughter to taste one little bite and then if she doesn’t like it she can tell me and she doesn’t have to eat it.
    But she still has to try one bite next time.
    So when she tells me that she doesn’t like it, i tell her: “Ok, well maybe you will next time”.
    I don’t want a complainer at my dinner table either. They can just choose to eat what they do like.

  2. Let’s us know how that goes for you. One thing that might help is if parents start explaining the why too to their kids. So the next time Ruby wants to buy a toy and you feel it’s unnecessary maybe explain her the why. I don’t know yet how it works with kids, just a suggestion 🙂

  3. I love this post! It makes you stop and think about why you turn away or dislike the things that you say you do. I used to be just like Ruby (which is why I adore her so much) and never wanted to try anything. As I got older though I learned that if I just try something and give it an honest chance, it may become your new favorite.

  4. I love this. I am trying to raise a positive little one too and it is so challenging when they pick up complaining from others. Thank you for this post! I will try this and see how it goes.

  5. I totally agree. We try and do that too. As much as it’s easy to say, “because I said so”. I think they deserve a reason too when we can give it.

  6. You hit the nail on the head; I’m experiencing the same thing with my threenager and her opinions. Is this a quote they teach in preschool, “you get what you get and you don’t get upset”??? It’s cute, funny and true. My little one has started to use it recently too. I like your suggestion to have them explain why they don’t like something. Going to give that a try!

  7. I totally try to do it with my boy who is almost 3. I know he is not mature enough to really explain, but I always felt very confident about it. I think it is really important to acknowledge their feelings and not to repress them.
    I find it very helpful and I think I should show the example and not get upset for little or silly stuff if I want my kids to be relaxed persons as well.
    Thank you for sharing 😉

  8. I feel like this is a great reminder for myself, actually. I wish I had learned it earlier in life, because it’s hard to break those habits as an adult, but it’s worth it. I don’t want to be a whiny 30-something. 🙂

  9. I’m totally going to start doing this with my 3-year-old, son! Thanks so much for sharing, Joy! Something so simple I’d never thought about doing when he gets a case of the “no’s”
    Always love your blog!

  10. I know this all too well, Joy! Ha! Whiners! One of the things I’ve been doing that I learned from our awesome preschool teacher is that I can be “flexible” sometimes. It really helps when it comes to choosing battles. So sometimes it’s you get what you get and you don’t get upset (or in silly class clown Lucas’ version, you get what you get and you don’t get a pet–cute but annoying haha!) when you or they really don’t have a choice. Other times though, I say, “Well, I can be flexible this time” and come up with a solution that everyone’s happy with. It goes a long way! Theo asked me the other day if I could be flexible and give him one more minute to play and I said yes I think I can be flexible today, set the timer for a minute, and right after it went off, he was done playing. In regards to food or getting dressed, maybe you could ask Ruby if she thinks she can be flexible and try this or that.

  11. Oooh, I like that! I am definitely going to teach my kids that we can all be “flexible” sometimes. Thanks, Lisa.

  12. I like that you are encouraging her to tell you why she does not care for something. Let her speak her mind. No one can like everything or everyone, for that matter. Girls have to learn how to speak their mind so that boys don’t get away with taking advantage of them.

  13. Love this post! Thank you! That really is better because I have been trying to figure out how to teach my 5 year old that it is rude to say “gross” to a food but that it is also okay to not like certain foods as long as you have at least tried it.
    Great practical insight, I’ll be using this for sure.

  14. Oooooh, that’s so helpful! I have also been wondering how to give in without making it seem like it’s ok to negotiate every time I give a direction. I like the idea of teaching flexability.

  15. I rarely comment on blogs, but wanted to share that your parenting posts are my favorite thing about your blog (and there are many wonderful things!). I’m also a mom of two girls, ages 2.5 and 3 months, and it is so refreshing and reassuring to read honest, practical, and caring posts about the realities of motherhood. I live in a community where most of the families I know have lifestyles/parenting styles that are less kid-oriented than ours. I too almost never miss dinner and bedtime, try to work around naps, etc. and often get flak for it from others, plus I am deep in the insanity of first-year-with-two, and reading your posts reminds me that I’m not the only one and that a year from now I might not think I was nuts to have two kids!
    Also, I love this tip! My toddler is not yet great at answering the ‘why?’ of things (though she has strong opinions about everything!), but I’ve found I get fewer negative reactions the more choices I give her – the key being that I only offer choices where the outcome is irrelevant to me. ‘Do you want to wear your gray animal boots, or your black striped boots?” will go over better than ‘You have to wear boots because it’s mucky out.’ Same goes for food, clothing, certain activities – when she thinks she has some say in things there’s rarely much complaining.

  16. Hey Sophia,
    Thanks so much for your comment – that means a lot! Sometimes I am not sure if people want to hear this stuff but I know that it’s valuable for me to hear these mini tips or experiences from other moms so I share them when I can.
    And I love the choices thing,’s like giving some them some say but with options we choose 😉

  17. This is great advice for raising children, because you have to give them the right to dislike something, as everyone is unique and we all have our preferences. Sometimes these can grow into personality traits. There is definitely a difference between a complainer and a kid who knows what they like and what makes them unhappy.
    I do think though that if they want to do a certain thing just because their friends will treat them better if they do (or in any form of peer pressure or conformity),then there should be a talk about living for yourself and not to please others, and that others’ opinions should not affect them, before a decision is made about whether they still want to do that particular thing (and the new why of course).

  18. I was never allowed to say gross – there’s a difference between not liking something and saying its gross and my mum always told me we don’t all have to like the same things, but that if I say something is gross, I might hurt the feelings of someone who did like it. I don’t think I ever said it again (in response to food…when you step in dog poo I think everyone can agree that is gross!)

  19. I have the same attitude towards that: you don’t say a meal is “gross” because it hurts the feeling of the one who cooked it. My 5 year old understands this. I took some time to prepare food for him, while he was playing, and no, I don’t enjoy cooking (that much). So, as a thank you, he doesn’t say something is “gross”, thank you very much.
    On the other hand, everyone has likes and dislikes, and, as long as they are uttered in a respectful way, I can totally hear he doesn’t like leaks. It’s even a game: “now that I’m older, I like mushrooms !!” (yeay !).
    Our motto is: “Tu as le droit de ne pas aimer, mais pas de ne pas manger”, which is: “you are allowed to dislike, but are not allowed not to eat”. Tasting is not enough, so I fix a quantity that has to be eaten, even if it takes 30 minutes for a spoonful…

  20. I like the parenting posts as well, but the thing I love the most about your blog is how balanced it is. I’m never fed up with a topic, and yet I get enough of everything. It’s like whole food, but for blogging. It’s great !!

  21. I really like the topic you brought up here. Yes, I think there’s a huge importance in raising your children to be as open-minded as possible when it comes to things like trying new food or meeting new people, but you are absolutely correct when you have to teach her the importance of knowing WHAT she wants and being able to say no. I wish I had more of that kind of upbringing in confidence (not to say that my mother didn’t raise me right… I am ever so grateful with how she brought me up and am aware of all of the sacrifices she made for me and my siblings).
    You are raising such a beautiful family. I love going through your posts… I’m a new reader but I’ll be here for the long haul!
    Lisa Favre

  22. If my daughter complains about something, the first thing I do is acknowledge her feelings. I think we all want to feel heard. So even if it’s something I can’t be flexible on – eating her greens, wearing a hat in winter – I let her know I hear and understand her, but that she’s gotta do it anyway. And that we all have to do things in life we don’t feel like doing.
    I second the comment about your writings on parenting – I like that you’re not an “expert”, just offering honest opinions about your personal experience.

  23. At four years old I believe they should feel free to choose their own clothes as much as possible. They have so little control over their lives and that one thing can make them feel great. The more they can make their own choices the less they need to rebel or say yuck to your choice.

  24. Us too. We’ve been emphasizing not to say it about food and how you can say “I don’t like it” but that “gross” is not nice and might hurt someone’s feelings.

  25. Hey Lynne,
    I find this choice to vary by family. I’ve tried letting Ruby fully choose and she gets too overwhelmed with that. She can say “I want a dress” or “I want a skirt” but then I choose what she wears from there. Or I give her a couple options to choose from. But some kids don’t get flustered at the decision and really love it.

  26. That is a great tactic! My son is 4 next week and we are definitely there! I also have started making him list 5 things he is thankful for when he is complaining about not getting his way. I have no idea if it will help but I want to help cultivate an attitude of gratefulness because we don’t always get what we want in life (sadly, haha) 🙂

  27. I agree that clothing choice seems to get mixed opinions on. I listened to a parenting talk about not giving little kids so many choices because then they think they are in control and expect to always be in control which leads to very hard to manage teenagers. But year, I don’t know. I let my almost 4 year old pick out his clothes often because he can get dressed by himself and it saves me time. Bonus!

  28. Yes! I love this! In education teachers usually say these types of questions or open-ended prompts help create critical thinking skills. I also appreciate teachers who say, “tell me more” or simply repeat what the child said and then provide a follow up question. When looking at art, “So I hear you saying that you like the yellow in the picture. The yellow here? How does it make you feel?” Thanks for sharing this perspective!!

  29. I use this on myself when I’m being a little brat. LOL. I’m not a parent, yet, but taking care of my nieces and nephews, I’ve experienced this. Being an aunt, it’s easy for me to say “ok” to everything they ask for or when they refuse what I offer (food, activities, etc)… so I’ll try this next time just so they don’t go home thinking they’re the boss of everyone 😀

  30. Hi, Joy! I’m quite late to the party on this.. I’ve been behind on reading your blog and found this entry.
    I really love this article! I think it’s a very important issue facing society. My husband and I don’t have any children yet, but we adore little people. I really love this post because I see this a whole lot in children of my friends and colleagues. Like you, I initially am patient and seek to understand but then I find that these children have no answer for the “why?” when I or their parents are reasoning or seeking to understand them. Additionally, I might add, I have noticed this reaction a whole lot in younger adults. There’s a proliferation of negative ways of expressing dislike such as “Ewww” “Yuck” “Naaaasty” “Gross” “NO(!!!)” and the like. I believe that we – little and adults – can/must learn to express our contrary opinions and express our dislike for something with a purpose: either for information or self-expression without making it an attack or creating a hostile conversation. It starts at home, then with friends at the playground, then it begins to affect and erode valuable grown-up relationships: friendships, work, marriage, families. I think being selective about what children watch is one step. I’ve observed all too often cartoons depicting the hero/heroine to be very opinionated, and sometimes feisty. The fact is, in the reality of life, people of this disposition would not be celebrated; they would be angry loners because no one wants to be their real friend.
    It’s commendable that, as busy as you are, you’re bringing this issue to the attention of your followers. I really admire your handwork not only as a creative business woman but as a mother who is striving to raise happy and confident little women. Your spirit and joy is something that your children are observing and learning from you – keep it up, Joy!! xxx


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