Yes, you read that right. I am saying that your child needs to hear you tell them “No.”
Why would you tell your child “No,” if all the other advice points to telling them “Yes?”
First, let me share with you why I am making this statement. I work in Emergency Mental Health, and I meet with individuals and families where there is someone in some sort of psychiatric crisis. My job, when I am wearing my “Working Mom” cape, is to meet with the person in crisis, do an assessment of their psychiatric presentation, and determine the best way for them to get treatment (i.e. hospitalization). I have met with many, many children who have parents that follow all of the rules and regulations that are currently the popular styles of parenting. And honestly, there are so many benefits and valuable methods that come from positive parenting, that it’s hard not to just accept that we should be positive all the time. What I have seen time and again, however, is that too much of a good thing is really not a good thing. There are benefits from taking the hard line sometimes with your children. There are valuable life lessons that can only be learned through difficulty, trial and error, and learning to think for yourself. These lessons fall to the sidelines when parents are constantly smoothing the sheets and calming the waters of childhood.
The Huge Payoff to Saying “No”
Do you remember growing up when your Mom or Dad gave you “The Look?” You know, the one where you totally understood that you have gotten as far as you are going to go with out real. bad. consequences. I remember being about 5 or 6 years old when I came up with what I thought was the perfect way to get my mom to bring us to the pool on a hot summer day. I walked up to my mom and said “Hey Mom, say Yes,” and she did. I then proclaimed my victory in shouting “You said ‘Yes’ so now we can go to the pool!” Mom stopped folding laundry, looked at me silently with that look, and my victory was snuffed out.
Yeah, nice try kid.(We did not go to the pool that day, fyi).
Holding the line with your kids is all about setting boundaries. We as parents need to show them that life has limitations. There will be situations they face as adults where they won’t be able to do what they want or have what they want. Knowing and accepting that you are at the end of the line prevents you from bashing your head to a bloody pulp trying to break through that wall. Consistently demonstrating to our children that there are boundaries that need to be respected not only teaches them the obvious- respect, it also shows them it’s time to stop going down this road and find a new one to try.
Children instinctively crave limits and boundaries. This gives them a sense of safety, predictability, and the ability to form problem solving skills. But wait, let me say that again. Children instinctively crave limits and boundaries. Christine L. Carter Ph.D., as published in psychologytoday.com, states that parents who manage their children with “authoritative parenting” tactics have children who are better adjusted, have more self confidence, and are less likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol. Authoritative parenting is all about setting clear and consistent limits and boundaries for your child, and sticking to them. But, the other part of this style is that parents are not aloof authoritarians, but rather parents who are engaged and loving towards their children.
How Can You Make This Work For You
There are some very easy ways to start setting clear limits and boundaries. These methods I am going to share with you are all about reframing how you present things to your child, and it all has to do with giving them a choice. How does this translate to saying “No?” Very easily, actually. Instead of asking open ended questions, you give them two choices to choose from.
“Hey, Mom, can I have a treat?”
“No, but you can have an apple or some graham crackers.”
Seems pretty basic, right? This is something that most of us parents already know we should be doing. You have either learned intuitively through trial and error that asking your preschooler “What do you want to eat?” will probably get you a list of items that are outlandishly unavailable and definitely not on the menu. But if you offer them two choices, and stick to those two, then you are making the decision making much simpler and easier to manage for them.
This can also be applied to teens, but you may have to really stick to your guns. If your teens are anything like mine, you may get it when I say “Give them an inch, and they take a mile.” Teens need the opportunity to try on their adult pants. Providing them with choices they can make based on their own interpretation of the benefits and consequences of that choice is a huge life lesson. They learn how to weigh the outcomes of their choice, and then experience those outcomes following the decision. Not only does this show your teen that you trust in their judgment and ability to make a thoughtful decision, but it gives them practice for when they really are making grown up decisions. Being allowed to make choices independent of what their parents want them to do is a very powerful tactic. Allowing them to do this tells them “Hey, I trust you to make a thoughtful and considerate choice.”
But oh man, is it hard…
My husband Steve and I are just about to put a deposit down on a once in a lifetime family trip. We have five kids, (all mine and the two youngest girls are Steve’s). My oldest kiddo, who is 16 and a junior in high school, is a big drama buff and has large roles in the fall plays that her high school puts on every year. We are planning our big trip for to coincide with the last year that all my kids will still be home under my roof. Our trip is going to be over the week that includes Halloween in 2019. Unfortunately, this week is also traditionally the last week before the premier of the fall play at her high school, so she would be having rehearsals every day til late in the evening before opening night. My first instinct when talking about this trip was that I was going to tell her that this was going to be our last epic family trip before she leaves for college, so she had to go with us. I know how much her drama club and performing in the play means to her. I knew that she would be really upset if I said she just had to go. Instead, I gave her a choice of what she thought would be best. I told her that we were planning a vacation and gave her the dates, but I won’t tell her where so it’s still a surprise. Then, I told her that I understand how much she loves participating in drama club with her friends, and that I didn’t want to force her to go if she really didn’t want to. She has the next week to decide what she is going to do. She can go with us on vacation, or she can stay home and participate in the drama production instead. I’ll keep you posted on how that develops…..
So How Is This Saying “No?”
Providing choices or options to your child IS actually telling them “No.” You are telling them that their options aren’t limitless, and they don’t have total control over the situation. What you are telling them, however, is that they can make a choice and that you trust in them enough to allow them to make that choice. And that is where the magic happens, my friends. Giving your child the limit of choices, rather than unbound decision making, demonstrates to them that you are in control and you trust in them to make their own decision. By saying “No,” you are really saying “Yes.”
Ok Mom, Now What? Do you think that your child benefits from being told “No?” Let me know what you think in the Comments section.