Dear Caring Parent,

That word, NO! It’s hard for parents to say no, yet it’s one of the first words kids say! The one-year-old shakes their head ‘no’ to everything, says ‘no’ to answer all your questions, pushes the envelope a bit when you say ‘no’ – you know, that look at you over the shoulder as they go to pull the DVDs off the shelf again. And then at two-ish, they start flying into tantrums when they hear ‘no’.

You can sort of understand this, because you don’t like it if, say, you go into a shoe store and there are five pairs of shoes you just have to have. But your purse or your partner says no.  Frankly, it makes you a little grumpy, or maybe even brings on a real pity party, or better yet, brings on a big negotiation with the budget or partner. We’re just a little prettier about it than the toddler. Usually, at least.

But as time goes on the conflict inside us, the parent, can get really strong as we contemplate saying ‘no’ to the wishes of our children. We’re wired to give to our children. And then, we don’t want our child to lose out on an opportunity; after all, early life is a great time for exploring different activities and sides to the self (this was a biggy for me). We want our children actively engaged. We want our kids to have activities listed that will look good, no, great, on their college application. Maybe we even want to sound like good parents when we talk to other parents about all the interesting things our kids are doing? We want them to have the right gadgets so they are socially incorporated, the clothes of their desire, invitations to parties, and going out with friends.

Saying No Has Become Hard

I was reading The View from Mount Joy, by Lorna Landvik and Joey, a high schooler in the book said this about the turn that has occurred around parents saying ‘no’:

“It seems there has been a shift in the family hierarchy; nowadays parents do everything for their kids.  If junior’s an athlete, his parents enroll him in expensive clinics and traveling teams and easily transfer him to a different school to give him a better playing opportunity. Hell, when we played, lots of parents didn’t even come to regular games, saving their appearances for tournaments or layoffs. Not that we minded- our parents weren’t on us the way parents are on kids now. But conversely, it was understood that in a family’s decision making, the adults were the captains and the kids were second-string if they were even allowed on the team.”

What’s off is the sheer volume of options, as well as our financial, time, and energy budgets. We have become hyper-aware of the priorities of our kid’s development, the competitiveness of our kids’ environment (social to getting into college), and the judgments surrounding us about what is a good or bad parent. However, it’s exhausting and unrealistic to say ‘yes’ to everything our children just-must-have.  So let’s stop, take a deep breath, and think about what we are doing.

What I Settled On

Here’s what I finally settled on after observing myself and listening to many other parents. Kids are creative in their responses to your ‘no’. So? You are too! In fact, when having to say no, it’s a great time to:

1. Start children in on budget talk. “This is how much is in the budget for summer activity. Let’s look at your options with that in mind.” Remind them of how the money is being spent.

2. Include children in higher-level problem solving. Like, pros and cons listing and weighting the different items in terms of importance. Or, if you have a feeling-oriented child, ask them to hold each choice in their hands and notice which feels heavier or lighter (go with the lighter).

3. Check our own motivations. If you have any of that sneaky status-with-other-parents stuff going on, settle on what is really important to you about your parenting. Here are some ideas. Be honest now….! More to the immediate point of why you are saying no, ask yourself what you are saying ‘yes’ to. Is it peace of mind, another activity, something you’re saving for, your child learning responsibility?

4. Apply patience as you dialogue your way through what can and can’t be.  It IS a two-way street.  It DOES involve YOU as well as your child.  And sometimes the conversation takes more than one day. Well, almost always it takes at least two days! Don’t be surprised when it takes a month.

5. Start your child working. Literally getting a job if it’s age-appropriate.  Or, doing things around the home so that you have more time and energy for their needs.

6. Be aware of the cultural drivers that your children are growing up in and talk about it. Talk about values, talk about why talk about what happens if.

7. Know what you are trying to make up for that you didn’t have. I’ve heard parents talking about how their kid is going to have every toy because when growing up, they were embarrassed with how few toys they had. Or how they weren’t allowed to go to parties so their kid will get to participate in all invitations.  Paying attention to what you are trying to make up for can get kind of deep and a little sad.  Yet, in the end, it is better if you can get to acceptance of what wasn’t in your life, and look afresh at your child’s’life.

8.  Since we don’t want to teach kids that life is constraining, but we do want to teach them to be creative in getting what they want, put the challenges out in front of them and see what they come up with as a solution.  Teens, in particular, can be amazingly creative and have access to a lot of technology that lets them create and achieve.

9. Just say ‘no‘. You know, sometimes your best judgment is that your child just isn’t ready for the cell phone, the dating, the parties, 4 activities after school…Let them know what you think indicates readiness and, until then, you say no. There are no doubt things you are saying ‘yes’ to, so dwell there. Remind them what you and they ARE doing with time, money, and energy. I know I need that reminder sometimes, so it’s good to say it out loud!

I have found it’s well worth every ounce of my and my child’s development to negotiate my way through a “no”. Even if the negotiation is about why I said it. Incorporating this list of 9 keeps us out of a power struggle and in the love zone!

Take care now, Natasha