Just Say No...To Your Kids
"Can I sleep at Josh's house?"
"What? Are you serious?? You never let me do anything! Give me one good reason why I can't go."
Does this little dialogue sound familiar? The consequences of teaching our children to question and challenge so that their brains grow and they develop into thoughtful, independent minded people has officially bitten us in the a**. Just say NO.
Stop negotiating ad nauseam with a child who is ONLY interested in convincing you to change your mind. Acknowledge their goal, empathize with their disappointment, but please do not think that you are obligated to convince them that you are right. Ask yourself what answer you could provide that would make your child pause, tilt their head to the side, and say, "Wow, I hadn't considered that possibility Mom/Dad... thanks for taking the time to share it with me. I guess it is best that I not stay at Josh's house." If you have this child living at your house, then you can stop reading here and enjoy your good fortune. But if, like the rest of us, your child can counter any logical argument you present and find the holes in your reasoning, then stop trying to win them over and just say NO.
Why do we struggle so to say NO? We don't want our kids to be mad at us. We don't want to disappoint them. We don't want to sit in the blistering storm of their rage. We don't want them to miss out on whatever social event they are clamoring to attend for fear that it will jeopardize their 'popularity.' We want to be the cool mom/dad. We want them to like us and be our friend. Your kids will have many friends throughout their lifetime, but only one set of parents (yes, I know they can have step-parents... you get the idea). And finally, sometimes it is just easier to say yes. We need to remember to act like the parents. We cannot be governed by our fear or our malaise. It is our mandate to make the rules, set the parameters and identify the limits. And if we are doing the job well, our children will test those limits and push up against those parameters and find them consistent.
As I have identified, many things get in our way when we find ourselves confronted by angry or unhappy children. It is critical that we identify our feelings and find ways to manage them without compromising our best judgment. Consider the following approach: Acknowledge your fear; recognize your reluctance to disappoint your children... but then do the right thing. Just say NO. Tolerate their unhappiness and understand that we as parents are trying to build good, resilient people. To this end, we know that happiness and immediate gratification do not rule the day.
This is a skill that requires practice and it gets easier over time; in part because you are better able to tolerate your child's response and also because the child starts to learn that you are serious. While you are learning this skill, give yourself the necessary space to practice. When your child comes to you with his/her request, let them know that you need a few minutes to consider it. Take a moment to really evaluate your opinion. If it is clear to you that the answer is no, then deliver the news in a calm and definitive way. Do not start responding to their challenges. "My answer is no. I am not going to change my mind. This conversation is over." Feel free to walk away; it is unwise to engage once you have set the limit. Allow your child to sit with their frustration, rage or disappointment.
To be fair, if you have been a 'waiverer' in the past and your NO has often morphed into a yes after enough cajoling... be prepared for a lengthy transition period as the clever child challenges your resolve. If your children are still young, now is the time to be clear and firm and teach them that your NO means NO.
Be willing to say NO and set the limit. Trust me, it gets easier over time and if you are the parent of multiple children, your younger kids will benefit from watching you hold firm and they won't challenge as vociferously. When my youngest read this essay in its initial draft he said, "I never bother to ask twice." Lesson learned.