When it comes to parenting, saying “NO” is not about being a party-pooper – it’s about using our prerogative as responsible guardians over our children.
But while we have the best intentions when we’re dishing out that two-letter word, the fact is that we’re using it too much.
Obviously, it’s important to learn boundaries, and NO facilitates that, but be too quick with NO in all manner of scenarios, and it loses its power for when things are really serious.
That doesn’t mean mums and dads should acquiesce to everything under the sun short of criminal activity; there are ways to respond in the negative without responding negatively.
“NO” is an immediate conversation killer, and a lack of explanation can leave the recipient feeling resentful. Instead, blogger Desiree Campbell shares five alternative, open-ended ways to say no, by engaging: presenting alternatives, and teaching about delayed gratification. And so when we say do say NO, it means NO:
1. “Maybe later”
Children operate by whims, and flit from one thing to the next at breakneck speed. A “maybe later” gives them the chance to forget about their request if what they were asking for in the first place was not of great importance.
2. “Yes if…”
A conditional agreement that can teach the value of working for what you want – this method is also magic at snuffing demands when the effort required is perceived as too great for the reward…
Child: Mum, can I have an ice-cream?
Mum: Yes, if you do the chores and your homework first.
3. “What about if instead you…”
Provide children with other options to think about. A lot of the time, kids pester for things out of boredom or because they need help coming up with other alternatives. Options give them choices, and choices give them a sense of independence – and accountability.
4. “Let’s talk about it…”
We usually have good reasons for saying no to our inexperienced young ones – so instead of shutting them down with a flat-out “NO”, why not use the opportunity to have a conversation about why you’re not comfortable with giving permission. Simply put: utilise these moments to teach, to guide, and to communicate – not alienate.
5. “Why would I do that?”
Desiree explains this alternative to “no” with a vivid memory of her mother:
“I remember clearly one occasion when I was a teen and I was arguing with her because she wouldn’t allow me to go to a late party. Instead of arguing back she took me outside where our car was parked and told me something I will never forget:
Mama: “Desi, look at our car. Even though it is old, every night I double check and make sure that it is locked, and the alarm and the steering wheel lock is on. The truth is that I don’t want anything to happen to my car. I don’t want my car to end up in a place where it doesn’t belong. Now, Desi how much more important do you think you are to me than my car?
Me: “A lot more important.”
Mama: “Then, if I LOVE YOU SO MUCH and you are of endless value to me why would I do that? Why would I let you go to a party where you don’t belong?”
In this way, “Why would I do that?” is more than a question; it’s an affirmation of love, a rhetorical line that states, unequivocally, “You are of endless value to me”.