Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Importance of Saying "No"

Why is it so hard to say ‘No’ to our young children? Here are 5 reasons why it is so hard, and why I think it’s important to be able to say ‘No.’ Let me know what you think.
  1. We want our children to be happy and to do and have what they want. We want them to have everything to their hearts’ content. We see their sadness when they don’t get to do or have want they want. Our saying ‘No’ leads to our child’s unhappiness.
  2. We want our child to like us. If we say ‘No’ to their desires then they won’t like us. If we always give them what they want then they will like us.
  3. We don’t want to be thought of as the ‘mean’ parent. Our child will tell the other children, their grandparents and their teachers that we are mean because we never let them do what they want.
  4. We read a book explaining that a parent should never say ‘No’ to their children because the children will grow up with repressed desires and resentment.
  5. All the other parents are saying ‘Yes’ and you want your child to 'fit in.' And we don’t want our children to have to wait for something we will probably eventually give them or let them do anyway. Why not let it be now?
Young children look to us to guide them into life as a human being. Part of that guidance is the delivery of our values for physical and emotional safety, and healthy life habits as expressed by the boundaries and limits we hold for our children. We don’t have to explain our values. Explaining is not effective with young children anyway. However, we do have to be clear and consistent with our boundaries for the sake of the child’s healthy development, and we can express these boundaries simply and with few words. “No throwing sand. I want everyone to be safe.” Boundaries are a way for the child to experience our care and values, and leads to the child’s feeling of security in the embrace of our care. Even though the child may experience feelings of sadness or anger when they meet our boundaries, the boundaries help to define the child’s world and hence they are free to explore within those boundaries. If your boundaries for the children are clear, their life is less anxious because they are not constantly pushing the limits to find the boundaries.

Children are natural explorers and some children experience ‘No’ way too often in the course of their daily explorations. Their natural impulse to touch and taste and move and drop and experiment is squashed. That surely is not healthy for the child. One approach is to create your young child’s home environment so that your prized possessions are not accessible and you won’t have to say ‘No’ so much. Lock up the hazardous stuff, make it inaccessible. Put away the fragile and ‘special’ things until your child is older and can understand what to touch and what not to. Find ways to create the boundaries without having to use the ‘No’ word so much. Rather than saying what you don’t want, tell your child what you do want. Tell them what they can do. And if you have to say no, offer also what to do instead. “No drawing on the wall. You can draw on paper.”

As your child gets older, it is important that the boundaries loosen gradually. Boundaries are not a static form, they evolve as the child matures and can take more and more self-responsibility. In fact, healthy boundaries for the young child leads to taking self-responsibility as they mature.

Advertisers rely on adults to succumb to whining. They target children with their ads and packaging. If you must bring your child when you go shopping, it is a helpful practice to 
develop the habit of not buying something for them when you shop with them. Then the times you bring something home for them it can be more special and appreciated.

Remember that just because you said ‘No’ once, or many times, doesn’t mean your child won’t ask again, or attempt to do the same behavior you already said ‘No’ to. If we understand that the child is not being malicious and trying to get us upset (they are not!), then perhaps we can be calmer in our saying ‘No’ for the hundreth time. Or thousandth. 

The child is simply trying to do what he wants and uses the strategies he has already found to be successful from his experiences. These strategies were developed through a dynamic interaction with his parents. With us. It is not useful to blame him for not listening, or be angry with him for his purposeful attempt to get us angry. That is not the case. Calmly and patiently we CAN help our children develop new strategies to get what they want, strategies that don’t upset those around them. It takes time and repetition. Lots of it.

So here are 5 reasons why ‘No’ is important in the life of the young child.
  1. No one likes to hear ‘whining.’ Whining is the result of parents not wanting their child to be sad. If at the first sign of sadness a ‘No’ turns into a ‘Yes,’ then our child learns that whining is a very successful strategy to get what they want. Also, it's okay for our child to be sad. Then they will develop the capacity to deal with their own sadness. Sadness is one of the basic feelings that undoubtedly will arise at various times in our child's life. Allow children to have the whole range of feelings.
  2. Our child will love us all the more for the healthy boundaries and limits we create for them. In the moment they may feel the sadness or anger of their desires thwarted, but in the big picture they will feel secure in our care and guidance for them. Did you read my post about ‘How to Handle a Home Wrecker?” 
  3. Saying ‘No’ does not make someone mean. Meanness is trying to make someone feel bad. Creating boundaries for your child is healthy and important. As long as you have reasons for what you are doing to support your child’s development, and calmness in how you are delivering the boundaries then what other adults think about you is their problem. If they ever ask why we said ‘No’ we can explain our reasons and then they can think whatever they choose to think. 
  4. We set limits for our young children so they will feel secure and confident. Without clear boundaries the children might be doing behaviors increasingly outlandish as a way to find the boundaries they unconsciously know they need.
  5. We live in a consumer culture where we are trained to say ‘Yes’ to all sorts of products and services, and get it immediately - instant gratification. I think experiences of delaying gratification are important so the children can develop capacities for waiting. Honestly, I think our culture is dysfunctional and is causing massive social, economic, health and environmental problems. Going the other way from the ‘mainstream’ seems like a really good idea to me.
P.S. Please let me know what you think about this post, and here is another short article that might be helpful about boundaries and learning to say 'No.' 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! It's really helpful. For me, the most important part was reading what you said about the fact that saying 'no' does not make you mean. Although I already know this, it's hard not to feel this way. I saved this quote and will try to read it when I'm having a hard time not being "liked" for saying no.

    What I struggle with is how to react when a particular boundary is crossed. For example, we were playing at the park today, and his shoe fell off. I came over and put it back on him, but this made him think it would be funny to take his shoe off. He started running around without his shoe on. I told him calmly that he needed to keep his shoes on and tried not to make a big deal out of it. He happily helped me put his shoe back on, ran around for a bit, and then sat down and took it off and started running around. This happened several times. I'm not sure why, but I didn't feel like it would be useful to say something like, "If you keep taking your shoe off, we're going to have to leave." I knew he was likely going to do it again and didn't particularly want to haul him away from the playground. I wasn't terribly concerned about him taking his shoe off, although I thought it was best for him to keep them on for general safety precautions. Any suggestions for how to handle situations like this?