Why is this important?
The title of this article, “Why is this important?” has been the subject of many conversations in the office lately. I have had this discussion with parents and with a few of the teenagers that I see. People, no matter their age, need a reason or a purpose for doing the things they do. We want our actions to be meaningful.
I recently had a session with a teenager that I see for feeding difficulties. He was asking me why eating more and a bigger variety of foods is important. Trying new things is very difficult for him, and causes him stress. We had a discussion about how tired he feels, and his lack of motivation to do physical activities; and how this is tied to the fact that he eats very little. We then talked about how proper nutrition and eating enough food to support your brain and body is important for keeping you healthy. He is still struggling with how this will affect him long term, and why anyone cares whether he is really skinny and doesn’t have the strength to do much physical activity. Because of this he has a hard time being motivated at home to complete the assignments I give him. We still have work to do in terms of helping him answer “Why is this important?”
A few days ago, I met with some parents to discuss their son’s communication. He has a number of words that he can say, but much of the time the words are meaningless. They are words he has heard others say, and he repeats them at random moments throughout his day without any connection to what he is doing at that time. During this discussion, I spoke with them about why it is important for their son to develop nonverbal communication first and then work toward verbal communication. I explained that nonverbal communication is where the majority of the meaning lies, and only then do the spoken words hold weight. As much as parents want words, we must first lay the foundation of meaningful communication through the nonverbal. This discussion helped them understand why it is important for us to slow things down, and go back to nonverbal communication prior to helping their son learn more words.
One of the other things I talk about with new parents (and sometimes remind my long time parents) is the idea of choosing activities that are meaningful for your child to be a part of. I tell parents to ask themselves “Why is this important?” before inviting their child to do a task with them. If they can’t answer that question, then maybe it isn’t something they should be wasting time on. The answer to that question doesn’t always have to be about a life skill or gaining independence. Sometimes it might be about spending time together or just having fun – this is equally important at times. The thing I want parents to realize is that we shouldn’t just be doing activities for the sake of completing an assignment I have given, but because we want the child to be making new discoveries about his/her world. Taking all of the silverware out of the drawer and having your child put it all back is an example of a meaningless task (unless you were also cleaning the drawer). This becomes meaningful if you are taking the silverware from the dishwasher and having your child sort it into the right place in the drawer. The task now becomes important because it is something that allows your child to be a contributing member of the family, as well as helps move your child toward independence. These are the types of things I want parents to be thinking about when they ask themselves, “Why is this important?”
Any time we are presented with a task, we subconsciously ask ourselves, “Why is this important?” We need to feel that there is purpose for our efforts. Going through life plodding along with no meaning or purpose is a very dull way to live, and makes it hard for us to continue moving forward. This is why we sometimes get resistance when we ask our children to do something. They don’t see the importance. When this happens, we need to take a step back and think about why what we are asking them to do is important. Sometimes that is all a child needs to be willing to complete the task. I encourage you to try this with your children when you are getting resistance. I think you will find that your child is a more willing participant if s/he feels that what you are asking is meaningful.