Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Just Say "No!"

There is something wrong in the world. In the parenting world, that is. Parents everywhere are going against their gut instinct and giving kids relatively constant permission.

I think we are telling our kids "Yes" too much.
We let our kids wear us down. We give permission when we really want to deny them. Our kids protest and so we, the adults give in. We make rules and then we change them.

Why do we do this? And if we chronically say yes how will our kids ever deal with the day when someone tells them no? A college professor perhaps? Or a boss? You know, in the real world?

Who doesn't want their kids to be happy? I mean I've never asked a parent I've worked with what their dreams are for their child only to hear "I want them to be miserable". That would be silly. We all want our children to be happy and we want them to be happy with us. We want their little lives, from the time they are born until they leave our nest, to be one long string of happy memories. And that's very noble. I certainly want that for my kids as well. But isn't it unrealistic? Is our job as parents to make our kids as happy as possible or as prepared as possible? When did we come to believe the responsibility of their happiness should rest on our shoulders?

Also, let's admit it that we tell our kids "Yes" because it's easier on us. Observe the parent of a temper tantrum throwing toddler give in to her child's demands. The mom doesn't give in because she wants her child to be happy. Her child is being a brat. Mom doesn't really want to reward that behavior; she just wants the shenanigans to stop. Rather than deal with the kicking, screaming and embarrassing behavior she gives the kids a candy bar. It's easier to say, "Yes" to the demands of the child than let the temper tantrum run its course. It's easier and less embarrassing.

I watched a young child ask his mom permission during a basketball game to go to the public restroom. She said "No." He asked again. She said "No". He asked again in a threatening I'm-going-to-scream-if-I-don’t-get-my-way and Mom said, "Yes. But you better make it quick". He did. He returned only moments later bee-lined for the bleachers but not before running onto the basketball court stopping the game. Mom was very angry and she shamed her son scolding him "What the -expletive- were you thinking?"

I'm pretty sure he was thinking, "What's your problem? I hurried like you said!"

Here's the thing. We can't control our kids. You can't bribe them, manipulate them or trick them into not noticing you telling them “No”. Even if you are the most skilled parent on the planet you will have a misbehaving, disagreeing child. Parents need to understand kids will be mad at you for parenting them. Kids will disobey, talk back, throw fits, refuse to nap, throw bottle at you, stay out past curfew, sneak food into their room and lie about homework. There is not much we can do about that. We can't choose good behavior for our kids. We can only control the consequences that are enforced after the infraction has been committed.

These are the times we must say “No. No you can't go out again. No you can't refuse to pick up your room. No you can't be unsupervised for hours on end. No you can't watch as much television as you like. No you can't play until you've done your homework. No you can't be online until one in the morning. No you can't talk to me like that. No. No. No.”

Say "No" and then brace yourself for the negativity. But it's ok. It's normal. It’s kinda how parenting works.

This isn't to say we have a heavy arm of parenting justice just for the sake of it. We should strive to be responsible parents who give our kids many wonderful opportunities. But we must also be brave enough to say “No” knowing our kids will be disappointed, frustrated and accuse us of unfairness.

Go with your gut parents. If you know it's an unsafe time to let your child loose in the gym don't give them permission to run off. Set and stick with a reasonable curfew. Say "No" to excessive video game playing and late bedtimes. Stop negotiating with your kids over homework, eating dinner and toilet training. It’s becoming too much. Parenting would be so much simpler if we would just put this one thing into practice. Let you’re no mean no and your yes mean yes. Why? Because I’m the mom and I said so! That’s why!

This article appears as a part of my weekly series entitled Practical Parenting.

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