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Just Say No

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Are there any benefits to your child hearing the word “no”?

Parents may feel it’s part of their job to provide children with a plethora of activities, items and experiences. Encouraging children to widen their world and expand their thinking are great ideas, and it is enjoyable to see our children happy. A child’s excitement when getting a new bike or her delight at having a friend spend the night can put a smile on a parent’s face. Parents understand the advantage of enriched environments for their children and are willing to go the extra mile to provide those benefits. But what about the benefits of hearing “no”?

Parents we meet are sometimes concerned that their extra efforts create a sense of entitlement in their children. The anticipation of hearing “yes” can create a scenario where a child has difficulty coping with the frustration of hearing “no.” Frustration on the child’s part often leads to behaviors such as pleading, crying, temper tantrums and threats of further misbehavior. A mother thinks, “Well, I guess I could run her to Samantha’s house. I just need to turn off the stove while I’m gone and dinner will be a bit later, but I guess I can manage,” so she buckles under and says “OK, just this one time.”

It is a misconception that good parents are obligated to please their children whenever possible. This type of thinking can set the stage for self-centered and demanding behaviors from children who haven’t had the opportunity to practice dealing with frustration. Once out of their parents’ household, young adults face a world that is not concerned with pleasing them.

“Adult life brings enough frustration, why not protect kids from it as long as possible?” some parents assert. Again, kids need time to practice dealing with frustration. It’s unreasonable to think a child experiencing little frustration in childhood will be well-equipped to take on adult-sized frustrations just because he is older. In our practices we talk with parents about a child’s need to build and develop their “emotional muscle,” meaning the emotional coping skills and resilience needed to deal with life’s disappointment and frustration.

It’s important for parents to try to achieve a balance between pleasing and not pleasing their children. Having the courage to say “no” can give children opportunities to experience frustration,

learn to cope and move on. It is a skill they will surely need in adult life. As parents, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should.

How can a parent find the balance between yes and no? A helpful guideline to achieving balance is to evaluate your child’s requests in terms of consequences for the family group. Does the request disrupt the order of the household? Will bedtimes be pushed back, meals rushed, finances strained, rules bent or broken? Allowing a child to interfere with the household’s routine conveys the concept that an individual’s desires are more important than what is best for the whole family.

In addition, saying “yes” to avoid dealing with a child’s behavior upon hearing “no” puts your child in a powerful position, fostering the impression she can simply threaten misbehavior to get what she wants. Find the courage to confront your child’s misbehavior. It’s helpful to a child for parents to weather her misbehavior and help her learn the lessons of living in a family group.

There’s no doubt seeing our children happy makes us parents happy. We feel proud of providing a broad, varied and exciting environment for them to grow. As we strive to give them all we can, remember, the courage to say “no” also provides children with something valuable: emotional muscle and resilience they can use throughout their lives.

Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being. To comment on this article, write to editorial@familytimes.biz.

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