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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Don't You Tell Me "No!"


Here's the thing; I don't want much out of life except I want my kids to do what I tell them to do. I want the boss to grant my request for a day off. I want my internet to stream Netflix instantly and for goodness sakes there had better be ink in the printer when I have a project looming. I do not want to see that big red flashing light screaming "No! No! No! You can't print here!"

You see, I admit with full disclosure I want what I want, when I want it and I don't want to be told "No!" Oh, don't judge me. You know you are the same way. You get just as mad when things don't go your way. Whether you actually verbalize or show your frustration depends, well quite frankly, on your maturity level.

It's the same with children. They certainly don't like to be told no either. Except that's a problem for teachers, parents and caregivers because all we do, pretty much all day long is tell kids, "No!"

"No, you can't have candy." "No, you can't stay up late and you can't play in the street or talk back." "No, you can't play outside until your homework is done." "No, you can't chew on the electric cord or put mommy's phone in your bowl of cereal." (What? Like my toddler is the only one that did that!). Children, like some of us unfortunately, are notoriously immature. But don't hold that against them, they are just children after all.

So what is an adult to do? You can't just let your children make their own rules and let them run around all willy-nilly. We must stand guard over our children but boy doesn't it get messy when they put up a fight, flail on the floor and turn your entire household upside down in a temper tantrum? And I'm not just talking about toddlers. Parents of teenagers, you feelin' me?

The way I see it we've got three choices in these scenarios: you can say no and deal with the drama, you can say yes and relinquish all your control or, I propose, a less common but sometimes equally effective tactic. Try saying yes and no.

Because children, like us, hate being told no, the first thing grownups should do is use the word "No!" sparingly. If overused "No!" becomes dreadfully ineffective. For example, if your child asks you for more food don't say, "No, you can't have seconds" and then ask them why they want more or ask what else they want. If you wanted to gauge whether or not they were still hungry you should ask them, "Do you need more?" rather than, "No you can't have more! Why? Are you still hungry?"

In other words, save the word "No!" for those really important life issues like heath, safety and discipline matters. 

"No" is not the phrase you use in negotiable situations. This mean adults must stop and think before they give their answer. Some of us are so used to saying, "No" before we really process the child's request. Make yourself pause before you answer your child. Is it the answer really "No!" or is it possible the answer is "Maybe" or "Later"?

This is my favorite tactic. I use it regularly on my own children. I love to say, "Yes, you can do that. Later." Usually my kids aren't asking to do something they already know they are not supposed to do. They are asking for a privilege that I can't grant them just yet. So rather than say,"No! You can't have any friends over!" I say, "You can have a friend over but not today because we have soccer practice. Perhaps Caleb can come over tomorrow."

It might seem like silly semantics to an adult but a quick rearranging of words is an effective tool when working with children. This phraseology makes my kids feel as if they still have some control over their lives alleviating the feeling that they are constantly under my rule. Oh, I'm still in control! My kids just don't realize it. Their independence remains intact and my authority still reigns supreme making them more compliant in the long run.

The idea of when-you-do-this-then-you-can-do-that works in a lot of situations. Need to stop playing and get to an appointment? You can say, "No more playing!" or you can try, "We will finish playing when we get back." Want your child to finish homework before going out to play? "Yes, you can go play! After you've done this math assignment." Or perhaps your child wants move to the next task before cleaning up the previous activity you can say, "Sure we'll head out for ice cream, as soon as we get this job done." 

Parents would do good to remember that most children are not naughty on purpose; they are just trying to find their independence. This is a good thing. Without that autonomous spirit you could end up with a forty year old, unemployed son or daughter living in your basement eating cold pizza out of cardboard boxes.

And we don't want that! We want independence! We celebrate it! So if you must rearrange your words to help your child feel as if they can have some freedom and if you can disguise your less significant rules as options, then your child may very well grow up to believe they can do and try anything in the right time.

Perhaps they will grow up to be even more successful than you ensuring your retirement years are a comfortable payback for all the time you invested in them. That's my goal anyway. I intend to raise healthy, independent, well-adjusted children who will gladly say "Yes!" to me in my old age. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!


(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting column for The Daily Review Atlas in Monmouth, IL.) Stephanie has five children, including three teenagers and eight year old twins. She is a Parenting Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District and can be reached at ssikorski@mr238.org.


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