I’ve heard a good amount of conflicting information about the impact of saying “no” to children. Now, I don’t think anyone would argue the need to stop a child from stepping into the street or touching a hot pan on the stove. There’s a good deal of discourse, though, about the right and wrong ways to respond when our children ask for (or demand) time, attention, or toys, or are behaving in a way that needs to be stopped.
While one expert expounds on the necessity of parents asserting authority and reinforcing firm boundaries, another warns of the devastatingly negative impact to a child’s self-esteem of denying kids their thoughts, opinions, and desires. As with many other philosophies in the parenting world, I feel like we are set up to feel guilty no matter where we stand on the issue.
Just in my circle of family and friends, I see divergent beliefs. Some parents work very hard to avoid saying “no” to their children. These parents aren’t pushovers, but they believe there is something inherently damaging about the word. They distract their toddler when they see the telltale gleam in her eye when staring at the dog’s food or when she’s demanding chips for dinner. They are quick to praise good deeds as a way to elicit only good behavior. And, they ask their kids why they want to do or have whatever it is they are asking for in order to understand the child’s point of view. The child eventually tires of the conversation and moves on to something else.
I also know parents who seem afraid to say no to their kids. They worry their children won’t love them if they are constantly denying them, stating life is too short not to experience simple and inconsequential joys. These parents are usually the same ones who appease their children in order to avoid anything “ugly” in front of other people. As long as the kids get what they want, there is no crying, whining time outs, etc.
Still others feel like “no” is almost an automatic response no matter the question. My husband and I fall into this category. We know we should be in charge and entered parenthood prepared for that authoritative job. We even knew our precious offspring would try to manipulate us – that’s what kids do – and we were poised and ready for the challenge. What we weren’t prepared for was all the gray area, blurred lines, and being so very tired! Lately we’ve been wondering whether our “nos” are always necessary or whether we sometimes take the easy way out instead of doing our kids justice by thinking critically about each situation.
I am not a parenting expert; I’m simply a parent trying to do right by my kids and stay sane in the process. I believe in positive reinforcement and parenting from a place of love and acceptance. I also think saying “no” is absolutely necessary. I believe this is the first step to teaching my children how to say “no” to themselves and others when something isn’t right – socially, morally, or legally. Down the road, when they are faced with life’s temptations, I want them to be able to use their own “no.” I try to remember that today’s second cookie quickly and easily turns into tomorrow’s far riskier choice.
Sometimes, however, my “no” means “maybe” and that’s a problem. If you’re a parent, you probably know that kids can be irritatingly persistent. I’ll admit my four year old can wear me down. While my “no” is firm at first, it begins to waiver as his wails reach a crescendo. When I tell Nolan three times he can’t have gum, but eventually give in, I’ve essentially taught him that he can get what he wants if he doesn’t give up. I can say to him a million times that he must obey me THE FIRST TIME, but my actions in situations like this are vital to getting the outcome I desire.
As much as I believe in saying “no” and meaning it, I want to avoid saying it simply because it’s convenient for me. Sometimes the response has less to do with a discipline issue and more to do with requests for my time and attention. After a long day at work, I usually don’t feel like playing babies or cars or school. Even so, I have to remember that the kids haven’t done anything wrong in asking me to play with them. I have been trying very hard lately to strike a healthy balance by providing opportunities to say “yes.” Sometimes I have to suck it up and play cars outside. Other times I focus on reframing the question by saying, “We can’t go play outside because it’s too cold, but we CAN set up your tent and play inside it.”
I’m learning the importance of a well-timed “yes,” but I have to admit I’m still working on the practical application of what I know to be true. A friend of mine, Just Mama Jenni, wrote a blog post about ways she plans in advance to make it easier to say “yes” more often. I love her ideas! In my efforts to establish and reinforce healthy boundaries, I do not want to lose sight of how a simple “yes” can lay the foundation for great things in my relationship with my children….and others, for that matter. Further, as much as I want my children to be able to say “no” as they get older, I also want them to say “yes” to a whole lot of experiences.
While I value the word “no,” I do not want to be an all-noing parent. My resolution is to see both “no” and “yes” as equally important words. They each have their place in teaching, loving, and serving my children. I just have to be intentional about how and when I use them.
Note: In writing this post, I have both worn out the “ key on my computer and now have George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” stuck in my head. And now you will too.