Why Not Say No to Your Children?
From MindShift: I often hear a single refrain as I visit elementary classrooms: a girl sits on a stool next to a little boy, her younger brother: “Since we know he can’t walk, how are we going to do what we have to do?”
As an educator and researcher, I am startled by this question. Why, when the child in question can neither step onto a cement floor nor joust with a 5-foot rope, has she forgotten that her brother was told “no”?
Children are curious by nature. They are the ultimate provocateurs; they want to know the world around them, even if it just means forgoing breakfast or a clothes change or ordering extra milk in the lunch line. The one rule we have to keep in mind is that they are testing us–testing our authority, our willingness to say “no” and to always give them a chance. That is why many of us have a hard time saying no.
It’s scary to give up what we have known was valuable: that saying no when we know that there is little, if any, gain for it will make life difficult for them and hurt their feelings.
“I don’t know” is a common reaction among parents and caregivers in a variety of situations. But when it comes to sending your children to school, it can be a deal-breaker. Parents must really give the small “no” words the respect they deserve.
It is this language with “no” that is essential to help your children prepare for life’s first challenges.
Young children are looking for understanding. They want to know what their teacher and co-teachers mean when they speak “no.” Saying “no” is teaching, even if their explanation of “no” may be far removed from its original meaning. And it is not about the “tear up the couch” solution: “No” is a two-word ability that comes from being able to say it three times, in relation to something as simple as “no more coloring outside the lines.”
Students will often pick up on this thinking. They know when you say “no” that you mean “yes”–if it was your suggestion. When a child asks questions, you can expect to hear why “no” feels like saying “yes.” These types of activities are built on the principle of two-wise words, where “no” indicates the way forward and “yes” signifies the way back. As a parent or teacher, you can teach your child that saying “no” and being clear about why is a skill that is best learned in advance, and not afterward.
Putting out fires early can prevent negative behavior later on. For example, if a kid gets sick or a classroom activity goes awry, he will have an easier time recognizing good teachers if his first statements are, “Hey teacher, I didn’t hear you say ‘no’ to those ants this morning…” as opposed to, “No one said anything…”.
As a parent, you don’t have to be like Billy Mitchell and run all over the place to set boundaries for your children, but saying “no” when it is a good idea to do so is important.
We have a long way to go before we have everything down pat, but the earliest lessons you can impart are crucial to setting your children up for the rest of their lives. So remember when you say “no” with a positive face, remember that what you say becomes your memory of what they needed.
This article originally appeared on MindShift.