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  • Sandhya Menon

Balancing the Power of ‘No’

Every child needs to hear the word ‘No’. It’s an important boundary setting tool that children and adults alike need to learn to respect.

The word ‘No’ is the grass-fed steak of parenting techniques – it needs to be brought out when the occasion calls for it, but is otherwise considered too much for the every-minute affair.

My personal rule is 80-20 – 80% yes, and 20% no.

A recent UCLA study found that by the child turns a year old, they would have heard, on average, the word ‘No’ 400 times a day!! Whilst this may seem ludicruous, consider how often you actually say the word ‘No’ – is it “No, you can’t do X?” or do we say “NO NO NOOOOOOOOO don’t do that”.

I often find myself finding ways that I can say yes to maintain that balance. For example, do I really need to do this now or can it wait? Try to watch your own use of language, particularly the use of negative words like ‘no’ and ‘don’t’, as it will have a powerful effect on your child’s view of themselves and the world. You don’t want to paint a picture of a world where nothing is allowed but rather a positive picture where many things are possible.

Yes was where life started –

“Yes, I’m ready to try for a baby”,

“Yes, I’m willing to keep this baby”,

“Yes, I’m willing to go through medical intervention to get this baby out safely”

“Yes, I’m prepared to withstand the pain to push my baby out”

Take a moment to remember the times you said yes, and how it’s changed your life thus far.

Yes is where dreams are made and dreamt, and that sense of wonder and hope for the future should always be kept close by.

Yes is where adventures happen – “Yes, I’ll go with you to the playground and cook later”, “Yes, let’s go to the zoo today and have ice cream and watch the gorillas for hours”.

Yes is where imagination and creativity flourish. It’s allowing the child to be a scientist, an explorer, a 3 year old Einstein. It’s in letting him hold his big boy cup when you know he’s going to spill it all over himself. It’s in making his first marks on the paper… and on his face. It’s in making his own unique mark on the world.

I’d love to be a yes person. I want my child to have all the dreams, ambition and drive in the world to flourish. Here’s where the power of no comes in. ‘

No’ creates a child who is grounded, who knows the rules and when it’s time to listen.

‘No’ creates the template for social rules and for integration into society. (The adolescent can later decide whether they would like to take on or shun these rules!)

‘No’ forces a child to think of alternative options and promotes cognitive flexibility.

Later on, taking ‘no’ well can even add to that drive to succeed as they know how to turn the no into something positive. There are some moments in which a `No` is simply crucial.

Madga Gerber once said “Discipline is an integral part of a rooted child, a child who is never told “no” is a neglected child.

Here are some scenarios in which ‘No’ needs to be practiced:

  • When the child is at risk of harming themselves, either during an activity around the house or when out and about, such as crossing the road

  • When the child is at risk of harming others, either emotionally or physically hitting

  • When someone is harming your child, most commonly through bullying

  • Social promises e.g. You’ve made a promise to X to take them to the movie and they would like to back out

  • When you’re not comfortable performing the task

  • If their want is not a need (Sometimes. Sometimes it’s also nice to give them a treat!)

Your child doesn’t have to like ‘No’, and you don’t have to ignore their feelings when saying ‘No’ either. It does not mean that ‘No ‘does not happen. Simply, we have to be strong enough to accept the feelings that come with ‘No’. We find space within ourselves to calm the parent voice that says “You are not doing enough. That is why they are crying” or worse still, believing them when they say they hate us. Over and over that narrative pops up.

You’re doing a terrible job.

You’re mucking up this parenting gig.

You are not enough.

The narrative is common, and often untrue. Notice the thoughts and emotions that surge through you when your child is upset. What’s your dominant narrative?

Now that you’re aware of it, know that it is this – this narrative is but a character in your story. Some people choose to close that book and put it down next to us. Some people choose to create a character that champions them, who says this instead:

I’m helping him learn boundaries. This is an important part of development.

I am helping him learn to manage disappointment.

This is a tough time right now, but we will get through this together.

I am enough. I have shown this time and time again.

Now notice the thoughts and emotions you have. We become the stories we tell ourselves.

Your child becomes the story you tell them.

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