28 February 2012

I Let My Children Say "NO!"

I have two beautiful, intelligent, independant daughters.  And I let them say "NO!"


Me:  "Please go and put on your socks."

Either daughter:  "No!"


What is your reaction as a parent?  Do you reel with indignant anger that your child would dare say "No!" to you?  Do you feel frustrated?  Does your mind race with thoughts of what to say to get your child to listen?

My mind does race with those same thoughts of what to say...

Let me tell you first what I have seen some fellow mommies do when their child says "No!"

Once, at a fellow mommy's house for a playdate with her son, he said "No!" because she wanted him to pick up his toys. 

She slapped him in the mouth and told him something I've heard mothers and fathers say many times to their children-"Don't you ever say No! to an adult!" 

When she swung to slap his mouth, one of her fake nails hit him in the eye and he fell on the floor sobbing and clutching his eye.  No matter what he told her, she didn't believe that she had hit his eye.  I told her that she had hit his eye and I proceeded to check his eye that there was no damage.  Thankfully, there wasn't.  Only then did she believe that maybe she had.  Because I am an adult.

Her hitting his eye is an extreme.  But I've seen in public strangers and even fellow mommies and neighbors slap their child in the face for "talking back" because they said "No!"

The words that always came out with that action was always some sort of version of "You don't say No! to adults!" or "Don't talk back to grown ups!" or "When I tell you something, you have no right to say No!" or, word it however you want.

Sometimes, I hear these words without the child being slapped in the mouth.  Sometimes, it's a spanking.  Sometimes, it's the mother grabbing the child by the upper arm and hissing it in his or her face.  Sometimes, it's just a time-out.

In the end, what is the child being taught?  You cannot say No!  And, I'm bigger than you.

No harm, right?  Children shouldn't talk back to their parents.  Or to grown ups.  Because otherwise, they will grow up to become disrespectful to the older generation and others around them.

But, I let my kids say "No!" 

And it takes extra effort.

When they say "No!", I have to get to their eye level and discuss with them what it was that was asked of them, why they said "No!" and why I would appreciate them helping me and listening and doing what was asked.

And, most times, they cooperate.  They walk off, most times happy, sometimes a bit grumpy, but still cooperative.  And then, the added effort, my thanking them for cooperating and why it was asked of them and how it makes me feel as their Mama that they helped me.  And then, they smile and run off and do what it was that had been interrupted in the first place-playing.

The effort sometimes is frustrating.  It takes extra time.  But, there is a reward in it.

I thought about this long and hard when holding my first newborn daughter.  How sick some people in the world are, how some people hurt little children.  How I didn't want my daughters to become victims, if I could help it.

And it dawned on me.  If I told them again and again, "You are not allowed to say No!", it would be ingrained in their minds.  And, if I only talk to them once in a while about not letting people touch them and about walking away from a bully.  Which message would end up winning out.  "You are not allowed to say No!" because it's enforced more throughout their childhood.

And because, when they say "No!", they are establishing themselves as unique independant individuals with a free will of their own.  With a body and mind of their own. 

They aren't pushing my buttons to see how far they can push me.  They aren't trying to get away with being lazy or selfish.

They just want to tell me "Mommy, I don't want to do this".  And it's my job to tell them why something is being asked of them.  That I'm not trying to force them into something terrible, but that it is for their own benefit.

And sometimes, I have let the "No!" win out.  Once, my older daughter was 2 1/2 and wanted to wear a skirt in the middle of winter.  With no tights.  And a t shirt, sandals, and her rain coat. 

After trying to explain about weather and seasons and temperature and staying warm by dressing correctly for the weather, I smiled.  I said, "OK, let's go.  You will be cold.  And when you get cold, tell me and we will go inside and change to what Mama is telling you to wear.  Sound good?"

She smiled, walked outside with me, in the cold, not dressed warm at all.  She didn't make it to the car.  We came inside, I dressed her in the right kind of clothing for the cold weather outside, she hugged me and we left to go to the library.

Both of my daughters, however, have wonderful manners and I am told regularly by other adults how well-mannered they are.  They say "Yes, Please", "No, thank you", "May I please...", "Excuse me" and stand up for their friends when someone is being mean to them.  They clean their rooms daily.  They go to bed without too much of a protest, brush their teeth, and help me around the house.  They look shocked when someone is mean to someone else.  My older daughter is trying to be a vegetarian because she thinks it's sad that animals have to be killed for their meat, entirely her decision.  So, they aren't brats who get away with being disrespectful toward others.

It's not a magic bullet.  They still argue sometimes.  They don't want a shot.  They might not want a nap.  They don't always want go to school instead of staying home and playing with a new toy and each other instead.

But their independant spirit is still alive.  And I believe that if a boyfriend is ever mean to them, they will have the strength to say "NO!" and walk away.  Or, if an adult ever tries to grab them, that they will kick and scream and shout "NO!" and will put up a fight that could possibly save their life. 

Or, if a supervisor wants them to do something unethical, that they will stand up for their beliefs.  The possibilities of how this life skill might help them is endless.

So, I get on my knees, sigh internally because I really don't feel like having to explain myself as the adult, and I talk to them.  As an equal.  Because, to me, they are.

One day, they will be adults. 

Everyone has their own parenting style.  This is not a criticism of how others parent.  This is just what I do and what works for us, and why.  I'm not perfect, no parent is.

However, if your parenting style includes hitting your child and you regularly feel frustrated, please talk to your pediatrician and find out about parenting classes that could help you learn other methods.  For your sake, and for your childs.

Syndicated on BlogHer.com


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Anonymous said...

I was raised like that by my mom. I was never hit, not once. I was never told "no because no!", which is oh-so-often used by parents. I always knew why I was supposed to do the thing my mom was asking of me. My dad yelled at me a lot (he has a bad temper), but my mom never yelled at me, not once. I've never had an argument with her, not even when I was in the "rebel" phase of being a teenager. She only ever was disappointed, and it felt so much worse than my dad's yelling. I always did what my mom asked me, because I understood she wants only what's good for me, and I was cooperative, and I was a nice, calm child. Having the comparison with how my dad acted, I have to say, this method is so much more effective and also just nicer to the child... it helps shape not only the individuality in your child, but also teaches thinking in general.
So... yeah. Good for you and your daughters <3


Lisa Noel said...

My kids are allowed to say no or disagree with me. However they are never allowed to "bark" or yell a no at me. Especially not if I've nicely asked them to do something. But we constantly have the discussion that they are allowed to disagree and that sometimes I, and other adults are wrong but that there is a proper way to handle it. I consider this, if they are in school and have learned they can tell me "NO!" loudly and they do the exact same to a teacher, would that be acceptable. No, so I don't think I can let them do it at home. It doesn't feel good when it happens either and that's the key for me. However if they look at me and say mom can I do it in one second when I finish this. Or even a "hold on" if not done with a big sigh and an eye roll. But my boys that I expect this of are 8 and 9. My 4 year old, I still correct and redirect.

Tracie Nall said...

I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and when my daughter was born, my husband and I had a conversation about this very thing. I feel one of the biggest ways you can empower a child is to allow them to say no, tell them they never have to obey adults blindly, and back them up when other adults don't understand this.

My daughter is allowed to say no to me or any other adult (she always does it respectfully, and isn't a brat either!) and knows that if she tells a teacher or other adult no for whatever reason, I will back her up on it.

Anonymous said...

A few weeks ago we started receiving the word NO from our 20 months old daughter. She says NO when she doesn't want to eat yogurt or whatever I'm about to feed her with, she istead points and says "Balalala" (what means banana).
She says NO when she doesn't want to sit on her potty chair or when she is not in mood for "buziak".

I feel like it's a good thing. It shows that she already has her opinion and she can communicate it with us.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

I love this post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This was so wonderful!

My 18 month old has been saying "no" for the last month or so and it is sometimes frustrating but I'm trying to talk and explain and try to convince him of what needs to be done. (depending on the situation)

Our biggest thing when he is ignoring or doing the opposite of what we have asked is to ask him to "listen and obey, please" if he doesn't then we count to three and then say, "ok, I will help you obey" and then pick him up or hold his hand and guide him where he needs to be.

I especially love your disclaimer about this method works for you. :). I'm learning to remember that I only know what works for us and I have no right to tell anyone else how they "should" parent.

Unknown said...

Thank you all for the kind comments!

thisonceandfuturelife, I just want to gently point out that in my house, we don't use the word "Obey" since that, to me, insinuates doing without thought to what the request is. We use the word "Cooperate". It's a big word for little ones, but I found in my family that exposing my kids to bigger and more suitable words has increased their vocabulary. Again, everyone parents differently. This just works for us. And I've personally chosen to parent this way to hopefully protect my girls. Thank you for stopping by!