Parents have a duty of refusal to certain things. How do you say no without unleashing a war on the home front ?
Here is a question that many parents will find familiar: “I need to learn the art of saying no to my kids. Sometimes it’s easier to give in because saying no takes a real toll on me. How to say No to your kids without having a mutiny on your hands?”
It’s a tiny little word. It looks innocent enough. Just two letters and one simple syllable. But it’s causing havoc in the home. Parents today are hard-pressed to find ways to use it effectively and with as little damage as possible. And children today can go ballistic as soon as they hear, the word No.
Perhaps a cartoon of the 50s sums it up. It shows a 6-year-old boy introducing himself and his toddler sister to a
visitor: “My name is No and this is my sister Don’t.”
Today, many decades later, surrounded as we are by an overkill of technology, products, information, lifestyles, intoxicants, food, choices…there are so many more things to which a parent has to say No.
How do you say No to children, of any age, from 2 to 20 (and older) without setting off a rebellion in your home each time that you have to say No?
Well, just like most aspects of parenting, it’s a tough call, no doubt. You simply have to find that fine balance, each time you need to say No, to come up with a decisive, effective, and palatable way to do it.
Here are 5 No-No’s for when you’re saying No:
- Never say “NO, because I say so.” This is the 21st century. Your child expects and deserves an explanation. However, do remember to keep it short and age-appropriate. No point going into Quantum Physics when you’re saying No to a 12-year-old boy wanting to try to “drive the car only in the compound”.
- Avoid adding disparaging remarks. Say No firmly but kindly, with a few valid reasons. Do realize, that for your child you have just erected a 10-foot high wall of frustration. You really don’t need to add barbed wire by saying things like: “Only dumb girls go to pubs.” or “Why can’t you find more sensible friends?” Even worse, is to throw ‘clever’ lines at children like: “Which part of no don’t you understand?”
- Double standards are out. You can’t get away with it – your child will call you out at once. “Don’t do as I do, do as I say” is a totally dated line that never worked in the first place. For instance, parents who eat erratically, don’t bother to exercise, lug around many extra kilos – cannot really say an effective No to their kids’ demand for junk food.
- Avoid contradictory messages. The child, whether 6 or 16, needs to feel that you know why you’re saying No and that you’re consistent. Saying No cannot depend on whether you’re in a mood to be parently and hyper-responsible on one day and in a lazy, chalta hai mood the next day.
- Do not be drawn into a bargaining session. Once you’ve said you No, avoid negotiations – something that 4-year-olds can try with as much persistence as can a 16-year-old. “If you let me buy this dress today, then I promise I’ll wear that boring salwar kameez to that wedding tomorrow” – this kind of deal-making is not a good idea at all, since all future No’s from you will be seen as Negotiable No’s.
Here are 5 Dos of saying Don’t :
- Do have some alternatives to offer your child once you’ve said no to something. This isn’t ‘negotiating’ – it is just a way to reduce the frustration. A sweeping, all-encompassing No is very difficult for a child to digest. A No with an alternative is easier to accept. For instance, “No you cannot watch TV during exam days…but we can go out on a small drive if you want a break.” – Child-proof the environment. With young children, it pays to anticipate situations where you may have to say No, and try to distract them before they get to the situation. This involves, first, making your home a child-safe place, so that you’re not constantly asking the child to not touch this, not go there, not sit here, etc.
- With older kids too, you can know in advance if your child tends to ask for stuff in a store, or drink too many soft drinks at a party, or set his heart on branded products that you cannot afford. Of course, you can’t ‘distract’ them! So here it pays to set down limits in advance: “You can have one Cola at the party and two scoops of ice cream.” Or “You can buy this game now, but then for Diwali, we’ll have to buy you something small.”
- To demonstrate to children (without lecturing, of course) that you too, as adults, are faced with many No’s. Children tend to think that parents are created to thwart and frustrate them, and once they become adults, they won’t have to deny themselves a thing! Let your children see that you too set yourself many No’s – which may be frustrating too but are ultimately for your own good.
- Over and above the grind of school life, find out what your children are good at and really enjoy doing. In a world that seems to be all about consumption, try to find what makes your child tick – that can’t be got off a shelf. This involves much more than money – it means that you invest time and energy. But it’s well worth it. You’ll find that there could be a sharp cut back in the build-up of the N-bomb.
For those of you in the thick of the No Zone, does this all seem like a tall order? Yes, it is. Parenting is serious business. But let’s find a way so that it doesn’t have to be a grim business.
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