We were on the beach and it was very windy. There was nobody close by. My girls were throwing sand and pretending to be Elsa, blasting their magical powers and creating ice! The sand (ice) was flying through the air for a good distance. We live in Australia, what do you expect, they’re desperate to see snow!
I let them do it because there was no one standing down wind. But, a little nagging voice in my head said, “If you let them do it once, they’ll always want to do it!”
*Shut up little voice!*
I remember so clearly being told as a kid that: “If we let you do it once, you’ll think you always have a license to do it! So NO!” Whatever it was that I was asking for, I forget now, but I always remember that response.
Oh, how I used to get so outraged! The feeling that I wasn’t trusted to use my own judgement, made me furious and frustrated!
And, I understand why adults used to say it, I mean, nobody gives adults a child rearing manual with step-by-step instructions on how to handle every scenario. So, ‘no‘ is often a safe answer…
The truth is, behaviour that is undesirable in one setting, may be perfectly acceptable in another. I realised that my daughters had an amazing ability to use their better judgement, providing that their needs for connection and understanding had been met.
If I always try to control their every move, when the time comes that I really need them to listen, they might not, because they’re so sick of me always saying ‘no‘!
So, when I say ‘no‘, there’s generally a good reason why. If I can let them do whatever it is that they’re asking to do (throw sand for example), then I certainly do. If it’s not appropriate to throw sand, I tell them not to.
I also allow my kids to complain, cry and rage when I say ‘no‘, but the answer is still ‘no‘. Allowing them to express their feelings about the answer is an important part of the process of democratic parenting.
My kids can’t throw sand at people, but I let them throw sand sometimes.
They have to hold my hand across the street sometimes and other times I let them walk across by without holding hands, if it’s not busy.
Most of the time, they can wear whatever crazy outfit they picked out, but I just won’t let my four year old wear a sweaty poofy dress-up when we go out, only because then I can’t clip her into her car seat!
I let my kids binge on junk and sometimes I say no.
Sometimes, I let them buy whatever they want at the shops and sometimes I say ‘No‘.
If I can give them a good back scratch before bed, I do it, and if on other nights I can’t, then so be it.
Sometimes I let them run amuck… and sometimes I don’t.
What’s interesting is that allowing for variety seems to create more cooperative children!
My kids are never really confused by this apparent change of rules or inconsistency. If anything, they’re relieved that the answer isn’t always ‘no‘. In fact, they almost always ask my permission before doing something, even if they know there’s a chance I’ll say ‘no‘… because often there’s a chance that I’ll say ‘yes‘.
They won’t lie or hide things because they know that I’m mostly fair when it comes to their requests. They don’t feel so desperate when I do have to say “no“, so they’re less likely to act out.
Allowing for variety does make parenting a little more tricky in the short term. If the answer isn’t always ‘no‘, that means there’s room for negotiation, and negotiation takes effort. BUT, I imagine them as adults. Imagine they’re given a situation that’s unfair, do I want them to sulk away thinking they have no chance?? No way! I want them have the skills to use their voice and to understand when to speak up and possibly when to shut up.
Wouldn’t life be boring if we had to eat the same foods every day?? Well, that’s how I feel about rules at home. There needs to be some variety. There needs to be times when we can let our kids do things that they normally can’t do. That way, when the time comes when we need their coperation, they’re more likely to give it.