“NO! I Won’t Pick It Up!”
“NO! I Don’t Want To Eat That!”
“NO! You Can’t Make Me Do It!”
“NO! NO! NO!
This one word probably causes more stress and disharmony in our relationship with our children than any other word in our language. As parents, we often become distracted from the task at hand by this word. We may discipline our child for his attitude, rather than focusing on the job or task that needs to be done.
What is it about this tiny word that causes such an extreme reaction from us? I don’t know about other parents–but when one of my children says “NO!” the hair on the back of my neck stands on end and I find myself thinking “How dare you! After all I do for you, this is what you give me???”
Why Does this words push our “buttons”? Think back to when you were a child. What happened if you said no to your parents? Common responses are — “I’d be slapped, grounded, spanked, lectured or yelled at.” Some parents say, “I don’t know WHAT would have happened, I just KNEW — not to say no.” Our experience has taught us that saying no to adults is a bad thing.
What did we learn? Since we parents, as children, were not allowed to say no in our homes directly, what did we do to say it indirectly? Common responses are: Lying, sneaking, plotting revenge, doing a rotten job so they wouldn’t ask you again, talking back and taking it out on someone weaker.
Are children today saying “NO!” more than past generations? Maybe they are! The children in school these days are learning to — “JUST SAY NO!” Then, when the child comes home from school and just says it to us, how do we react? Probably with, “Don’t YOU EVER say NO to me!” The child is bewildered. There is a conflict because young children have not developed the abstract thinking necessary to fully understand the difference.
Why do children say “NO”? There are certain stages where saying “no” becomes an important developmental task. At 2 & 3, children are individuating from their parents. They are discovering their power and the limits in their environment. At school age, children are learning to be assertive, take care of themselves in social situations and are becoming increasingly influenced by peers and other relationships. Teens rebel to discover their individuality and values. There are positive aspects to these developmental achievements!
How do we usually respond when children say “NO” to us? Generally we parents respond in one extreme or another. We may give in to the demand (permissiveness) out of exhaustion, frustration, or lack of a better idea. The permissive approach does not teach our child respect or responsibility. The opposite is to respond by banishing the word it completely and taking punitive measures to enforce the rule. The punitive approach may cause unwanted side effects (lying, sneaking, revenge).
One word — so much to think about.
Let’s say you are ready to take a risk, and deal “directly” with children, by incorporating some reasonable use of the word into your home. I know it sounds strange, but my kids say “YES” more often when they know that it’s OK to say “NO” sometimes. Here are some suggestions to get started:
Discuss it with your spouse. Take time to consider the pros and cons together. Talk to each other about the goals you have for your children. Discuss how this may benefit or hinder them in your long term parenting plan. Agree about what you really want your children to learn about saying no, for their future. Then choose the best plan for teaching them over the years. Decide to support each other and present a united front.
Model saying NO respectfully. If we want to teach our children to say no in a respectful way, we need to model it for them. So when you say it to your child, say it in the same tone of voice that will be acceptable to you in the future. If we scream “NO!” at them, they are likely to respond in kind. One thing I do is say, “NO, I’m not willing to do that, but I would be willing to do this instead.” Now I find my children will say this to me occasionally. “No, I’m not willing to wash the dishes, but I’ll rinse them off and put them away instead.” I find this much easier to hear, and I even admire my child’s creative thinking, as opposed to a flat unwillingness to cooperate.
Request a respectful NO and acknowledge them. When a child says no in a snotty voice, you can say, “I respect your right to say no to me and I want you to say it respectfully, like this, No.” Request them to repeat it back to you respectfully. Immediately go back to the issue at hand, usually a task that needs to be done. “The dog still needs to be fed, what will you do?” Not getting caught in the battle over the word no can avoid 80% of the power struggles that occur with children. Also read this article.
NO. It is amazing how much power this little word has. Perhaps we can create better relationships with our children and give them skills that will be valuable to them as adults. If we can face and conquer this uncomfortable issue directly, we may avoid many of the problems that occur in disciplining our children.