Just about every kid’s most frequently used word is ‘NO‘. It sometimes comes out even when they mean to say ‘yes‘! Really, it’s bizarre behavior and can often be quite maddening for parents. I’m sure you know what I mean.
So, what’s the go with kids saying ‘No‘? Why do they do it? And, how can we help to reverse it? Can we turn the ‘No‘ into ‘Yes‘? I recently read a little bit of a book by Naomi Aldort, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Of course, I didn’t finish it, because I’m hopeless with reading books. But, it did give me some pretty good reminders of ways to ‘take the struggle out of parenting‘, or so she says. And, I can attest to it, the past couple months of me changing my attitude just slightly towards my kids has made a dramatic difference in the level of peace in our household (sanity saving, thank you very much).
Why The Constant ‘No’
Kids are like parrots. If they constantly hear ‘No‘, then they will constantly respond to every question or request with a, ‘No‘. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes we, as grown-ups, are not even aware that we’re saying ‘No‘ like a broken record all day long. But, adults don’t always have to say ‘No‘ to a child. Even if we don’t want a child to do something, there are many other ways to express ‘No’. Also, we have to consider if we’re just saying ‘No‘ for the sake of saying ‘No‘! Sometimes we say ‘No‘ to a child for no other reason than the fact that we were delivered ‘no‘ so many times during our own childhood! It’s a negative pattern that many parents (and teachers too) can get stuck in!
Skillfully Saying ‘No’
The other day, Margo (3 1/2) grabbed a small pair of fancy sewing scissors off the table and was walking around with them. I certainly did not want her to use them in that way, as they are only for cutting thread and fabric. So, rather than saying, ‘No, put those down, they’re sharp and you’ll hurt yourself!‘, our conversation went like this:
Me: ‘Margo, can you tell me what you want to use those scissors for?’
Margo: ‘I want to use them to cut my nails.’
Me: ‘Well, here are the nail cutting scissors, they have a round edge and are better for nail cutting. Why don’t you sit on the couch and do it there so that your hand will be nice and steady so you can cut your nails more easily‘.
The level of communication was fantastic!
Redirect Their Enthusiasm
Margo loves to help herself in the kitchen. She loves to pour herself drinks and make herself food. She spills drinks and drops food on the floor all the time. Rather than tell her ‘No, you can’t help yourself because you’ll make a big mess‘, I just tell her that if she spills something, she either has to get me or grab a towel and wipe it up or at least tell me that something has spilled. She doesn’t get in ‘trouble’ for spilling things. Sometimes she grabs the ‘wrong’ towel, (she always seems to use the clean cloth nappies that are very valuable and I’m always running out of). But, rather than saying, ‘Oh no, STOP, you’re using the wrong towel‘, I let her do it in her way because she’s doing her best to help and it’s not the end of the world if I have to wash one more nappy. One thing that I try to never do is to dampen a child’s (or anyone’s) enthusiasm. After all, which is more important, their feelings or the towel?
The same ‘redirecting’ technique can be used on babies. For example, Goldie is 12 months old and likes to ‘help’ me by digging in the flower beds If I don’t like what she’s doing, rather than saying ‘No’ all the time, I simply give her a spade and let her dig in some dirt that is appropriate.
When to Really Say ‘No’
Kids certainly need to have limits. They don’t need to destroy your house or run you haggard. I say ‘No‘ when I really mean it and when I’ve tried the skillfull way of saying ‘No‘ first, but it didn’t work. I certainly say ‘No‘ if a kid is in danger or about to hurt themselves or another. If they’re going to run into the road, of course, I yell at the top of my lungs, ‘NO!’ I also say ‘No‘ if it’s truly not the right time for negotiation. I say ‘No’ if the kid is showing obvious signs of being tired and delirious and any amount of skillful reasoning or negotiation is beyond their capacity. They might cry over the ‘No‘, but I always feel like it was a cry that needed to come out anyway. So, when they get like that, I deliver a big fat ‘No‘ with expected consequences.
What About When You Don’t Feel Like Saying Yes?
Sometimes saying ‘yes‘ is totally inconvenient to you. That saying ‘Yes’ requires some extra effort on your behalf and you totally don’t feel like doing it. For example, Margo always wants to turn on the bathroom sink to wash her hands and she needs my help to turn it off… so she asks me if I can turn off the water for her. But sometimes I don’t feeeeel like walking down the hall and turning the water off, especially if I’m in the middle of something! In these types of situations, where saying ‘Yes‘ is merely a matter of inconvenience, I ask myself again… what’s more important, encouraging her to wash her hands by herself or telling her ‘No‘ because I don’t feel like turing the water off for her. On the flip side, we also need to pay attention to our needs and cannot burn ourselves out by constantly saying “Yes“.
Just Be Nice
Whatever you end up actually saying to a child, as in ‘yes‘ or ‘no‘, just say it with awareness. There’s no prescription for what to say in every situation or circumstance, but the general consensus is to just be nice and to consider that what you say to a child will inevitably be regurgiated out at some later stage. Whether you’re a teacher, parent or friend to a small person, they are all little angels and deserve a little more ‘yes‘ in their lives! So, start saying a little more ‘Yes‘ rather than the constant ‘No‘… see what starts to happen! You might find that a little ‘Yes‘ (or some variation of yes) goes a long way…