The Psychology Today article, published in 2017, outlines seven specific situations where it is okay to use “NO.” But, what about the rest of the times we need to offer a negative response to our children?
As I was leaving Hunter's 15-month wellness visit at the pediatrician's office, I read the little handout she gave me about child development and tips for the upcoming next stage of life. The handout described limiting your use of the word "no" by creating a safe home environment and eliminating possible dangers by utilizing proper baby proofing methods.
I really thought about it as I read the handout from the pediatrician, but then, I became even more puzzled the more I considered the real implications from eliminating “NO” from my communication with my active, learning, and growing toddler.
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That week, Hunter tried to climb from one armchair to the other despite their large gap; I caught him when he fell because, of course, he fell. He tried to put his arm in the toilet; okay, maybe he succeeded in getting his arms elbow-deep in toilet water. Then he tried to put his head in between the spindles on the railing on the stairs where he had already gotten stuck twice that day on the bottom step; the upper-level steps have a clear guard making that impossible anywhere else.
Hunter sat on his sister, which erupted in a physical fight. He rolled off the furniture landing on a tile floor. He climbed the changing table like a ladder, and I sprinted across the room to catch him. He spread diapers through the entire house, even throwing some away in the diaper pail before I realized what was happening. If I eliminate “no,” should I also eliminate diapers and the diaper pail?
My home is safe but not perfect. But either way, my kids hear the word "no." Because in the real world, they will hear it often, for good reasons and not so good reasons. I want to prepare my children for living in the real world that is not a perfect safe haven for an exploring toddler, child, or teenager. I want my children to learn appropriate responses when they hear an unwanted “no.” I hope to avoid (or at least limit0 public tantrums because my child was told “no” for a perfectly acceptable and well-explained reason.
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I want my children to learn to follow my directions as they will need to learn to follow a teacher's instructions as they both start school. I want them to understand when they have a sports coach or an employer that they may at times be told "no" for both fair and unfair reasons. They need to understand how to manage their emotions for the rest of their growing lives. When my children are both in relationships and learning boundaries, I want the “no” statement to be a strong symbol for them that means an immediate stop not just maybe hesitate and continue to push forward anyway.
Part of my job as their parent is to teach my children to accept less than desirable outcomes. Their reaction to a “no” statement with a college application, a school-sponsored dance, or a driver's license exam will speak to their character and their perseverance. Through my teaching, I hope to also build their own moral compass and work ethic so that they know which “no” statements are worth fighting against and pushing beyond.
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If they don’t make the Varsity team, I want to see them work even harder in the offseason. If they don’t get hired for the best new internship, I want to see them create new and more exciting opportunities. If they don’t get accepted to their first-choice school, I want to see them commit themselves completely to that great #2 school that did recognize their potential.
Right now, my kids are only two and four. They may hear a “no” because something is too expensive or because there is not enough time. They may hear no because their behaviour has not earned a special reward. Regardless of my unwillingness to stop saying no, I will always strive to offer my kids a full-sentence explanation to try to ensure that they are able to understand the no and its reasoning and so that we are always building up their vocabulary with new words and strong sentence structure.
The New York Times article, “To Raise Better Kids, Say No,” published in 2017, showcases a couple of different scientific studies that highlight creativity and imagination being stronger when children have limited resources. So maybe I really am on to something by telling my kids “no.”