When my children were small, I read with interest a book on child rearing practices, Children the Challenge. But in those days there were few courses for parents to take to help them use different methods for disciplining their children other than the tapes we all carry around in our heads of the kinds of measures that were used on us. One tactic I wish I had known then was the importance of letting my children say “no” to me.
Most of us parents and grandparents, since I am that too, want children to do what we ask them to do at the moment we ask them to do it. We spend a lot of time trying to figure out how we can accomplish that and we end up being fairly unsuccessful. But if we were to change our thinking just 90 degrees or so, we might find there are other techniques that could result in more cooperation from our children and also give them a strength of character that would serve them well throughout their whole lives – the strength to say “no” when no is really the desired answer.
When our children are little, we are their world. In fact, babies think we are even connected to them. They think this for many months of their lives and when they realize they aren’t connected to us, they cry when we leave them for fear we won’t come back and reconnect. Our children really love us unconditionally. They accept our failings, our broken promises, our tardiness in picking them up, and even our plain old human frailties without wavering in their love for us. They want only to please us and never to disappoint us. They are very sensitive to us and they know almost instinctively that we would be upset if they were to tell us “no” when we ask them. But they are torn, too, by their own inner desires to not do what we want them to do. So they take another route. They say “no” by their actions. We ask them to hurry and they take forever instead of saying, “No, I’m not ready yet and I can’t be ready as soon as you want me to be.” They simply take a lot longer than we have patience for. We ask them to clean up their room, and rather than saying, “No, not right now, later,” they don’t do it, even when we nag. You know what I’m talking about.
So why is it so important for them to actually say “no” to us? Because there is coming a time when others whom our child really like or even love will ask her or him to do something that is not in the child’s best interests. Our child will not have had the experience in saying “no” to someone close to her or him in order to know how to say “no” without fear of hurting or disappointing that special person.
Our children need to learn how to say “no” so they can know how to state their wishes and if necessary, to negotiate an alternative, perhaps mutually agreeable solution instead. Our children need to gain the power of character to feel secure in saying “no.” “No” to drugs, “no” to smoking, “no” to sex. And the people who will be asking them will be their friends, those people the children like or love and who they don’t want to disappoint or risk losing.
Children need to learn that it’s OK to say “no” to people who love you, and for starters that’s you parents. So how can we teach our children to say “no” respectfully. We can respond respectfully when they say “no” instead of insisting they do what we’ve asked of them. One way is to simply ask, “When would you be willing to clean up your room?” That opens the door for negotiations and agreements and those feel good to everyone. Another way is to preface the question with, “Would you be willing to …..?” This indicates to the child that she or he has some control in the matter, which is an invitation to the child to cooperate out of mutual respect. There are lots more ideas and techniques you can use, but I hope the point is clear. Having permission to say “no” is a life skill our children can best learn from us. How about thinking about it?
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher