Whether you consider yourself to be permissive or authoritarian in your child-rearing style, it’s certain that at some point you will tell your child, “no!” It is very likely that your child hears this word many times a day. We say “no” when a toddler is about to stick a penny in the electric outlet, or in his mouth. We say “no” to an energetic preschooler running towards the street. We say “no” to the young child who wants to stay up late and watch just one more show on television. Sometimes, it may seem that all we ever say is “no”! Is there a way to get around this? No. Probably not! But the point of this discussion is to encourage us to think, before we shout this overused and under-heard exclamation.
Recently, I was at Wal-mart Optical helping my husband pick out new frames when a family came by with three grade-school aged children. The youngest might have been six. He was sitting in the shopping cart, screaming at the top of his lungs with a shrill pitch that made everyone think he had blood pouring out his eyeballs. The problem? He didn’t want to get his frames repaired, he wanted new frames. The parents were bent over him, anxiously trying to please him so he’d be quiet. They used every word in the dictionary, except “No!” Now if you’ve ever read the Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies, then you know the right way to deal with this situation. You leave the store immediately. You do not placate a child in a tantrum, but neither should you subject the entire population of the store to his inappropriate behavior. You cannot reason with a child in a tantrum. You should not EVER give in to a child in a tantrum. Take him out to the car, take him home. Send him to his room, or his cry-rug, or his time-out corner. Then later, when he’s calmed down, you teach him.
That same day I was walking my dog, and saw a little two-year-old girl on the sidewalk, jumping up and down. She wore a sundress and lacey socks and shiny black shoes. Her wispy blonde hair was tugged back in a pony tail, but precious strands had come loose and were floating on the breeze with her enthusiasm. It was a joyous, carefree moment. But her father squelched it instantly, yelling “No! Don’t do that. Can’t you just walk like normal people?”
Both sets of parents did not know the correct use of the word. Both had failed to understand children, or the role of the parent. In both families there were hurt feelings and a lack of communication between adult and child.
So when do you say no?
As little as possible, and only when it’s absolutely necessary. If you say it all the time, your child will learn to tune you out. The best way to change your habit of overusing the word “no” is to just stop and think a moment before you speak.
Here are some examples:
Suppose your child wants a piece of birthday cake for breakfast, and you want to tell him no, he needs to eat cereal. Is there really any less sugar in that box of honey-yummy-crunchies than the cake? It became a beloved tradition in my family, that the morning after a birthday, everyone could have cake for breakfast if they wanted to. And I rarely bought sugary honey-yummy-crunchies anyway. I am not in favor of letting children eat sugary sweets, but it is much easier just to NOT keep them in the house than to try to explain to a three year old why we only eat chocolate covered grahams after we’ve had a nutritious breakfast.
Another way to get around overusing “no” is to have clearly defined rules. I’ll go into more details about rules in another post, but for now, know that if you have a set bedtime, and your child asks to stay up late, you can just ask him the rule. “What is the rule in this house about bedtime?” Then the child can answer his own question. You’re not the big meanie saying “No”. Your child is learning to live by a set of rules, which is absolutely necessary to live in a society.
So remember, think before you answer. Do you really have to use the word “no”? If the answer is yes, then do it! Say it once. Say it with authority. Do not repeat yourself. If it seems appropriate at the time, you can explain to your child why you must say no. If your child throws a tantrum, then you discipline the tantrum. You do not change your “no” to a “yes”. If your child accepts the “no” well, praise him! Tell him how proud you are that he listened to you.
The more you can step back and allow your child to explore his world, the more you allow him to develop his innate creativity.