The Importance of “No”


Establishing limits or boundaries for our children is a necessary part of our role as parents and teachers. Yet for many, saying no to our children’s requests or implementing rules has become one of our most difficult jobs. In many cases we have inadvertently created this problem by occasionally giving in to the various manipulative tools that our children have available. Arguing, tantrums, crying, feigned illness, debates, “it’s not fair”, “but you said”, “but everyone has one”, lying, “we have no homework”, “I’ll do it later, I’m too tired” …and the list goes on. Do you ever wonder where all these strategies for not listening come from, why they keep occurring over and over again and what we as parents can do to manage the excuses or oppositional behavior? Some aspect of a child’s need to test limits, push against boundaries, or oppose our rules, is built into the developmental process as a way of learning about their world. It’s a type of investigation which is needed for healthy growth, and which parents have to manage in a way that doesn’t overly frustrate or inhibit the child’s exploration. In a sense we have to encourage their efforts to test the limits, while also making sure that we wisely maintain boundaries and sustain our ability to say “no”. Some strategies that have proven to be effective in managing this process include:

  1. Provide children with “choices” which we establish.
  2. Avoid saying “no” too quickly or too often. We need to be more careful about “choosing our battles”.
  3. Do our best to not let our own anger or frustration become part of the process. Yelling, loss of control, excessive consequences… are largely ineffective, and often model exactly those behaviors we’re trying to get rid of.
  4. Be aware of those times when a child exhibits compromise, empathy, sharing, helpfulness or any other cooperative behavior. Acknowledgment of these types of behavior teaches the child appropriateness. Consequences for misbehavior create compliance, not learning.
  5. Help children develop self-confidence and independence by letting them solve their own problems.
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