It's Okay To Say No To Your Toddler

My mother-in-law figured out some pretty cool tricks during her years raising kids. Some of them I've unashamedly copied in my own parenting. Others just aren't the right fit for our family right now. Some of my favorite stories about my husband as a kid involve the ways he'd try to find a workaround for some new house rule. He even drove his mother to exasperation - she never knew she'd need to make a rule about not bringing sticks in the house! One tidbit I'd never heard before meeting Sue is not using the word "no". Of course, she still set boundaries for her kids - but instead of saying, "No," she'd say, "Don't". As in, "Don't hit your sister!" in place of "No hitting!" Her rationale was that she didn't want to teach her toddler to start parroting her in defiance.

Without really making a huge effort, Stephen and I use Don't instead of No for most of our disciplinary chats with Shep. But no matter what words we use, trust me when I say - we are most definitely telling Shep no.

Toddlers - including my own son - crave consistent boundaries. It's true, they have no control over their world or what happens to them. While I have sympathy for that struggle, I can't give over the reins to someone who can't even speak full sentences! If Shep had his way, we'd exclusively eat candy and popsicles for every meal. He would never nap, share his toys, or clean up his room. Our house would descend into chaos as he turned our couch into a parking deck for his trucks.

So listen up mamas, and repeat after me: "No!"

Don't feel guilty about it. Don't feel bad. Remember that your kid needs you to say no to them. They need to be able to test your resolve and know that you will bend and not break. It's our job as parents to say no: to protect our kids from accidentally hurting themselves, to help them learn how to be selfless instead of selfish, to learn to discipline themselves. Discipline is not a dirty word; it's not synonymous with punishment. Discipline is the practice of denying yourself in the moment because you've decided you want something else even more. If you're anything like me, self-discipline is your least favorite life skill to practice. It's literally telling yourself that you can't have what you want. Un-fun!

And that's exactly why kids need parents to teach them the art of "No". It's not just about controlling your kid's behavior or protecting them from the world. Hearing "no" and having a compassionate parent there to help you process the frustration of that word - that's essential. If I'm being honest, that's probably why I struggle with discipline myself! My parents didn't explain to me that their "no" was in my best interest and that one day I would learn to say it to myself.

Don't feel guilty. Don't feel bad. It's okay to say "No" to your toddler. They need you to teach them boundaries and limitations. If this seems harsh, just remember that the follow up to denying your child something that they want is helping them process the "why". The why is where real lasting growth happens. And what parent doesn't want to help their child grow into the amazing adult they're destined to be?

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