When I Say No, Why I Say No and When I Let My Kids Take The Lead
By Janice Quirt
Photo © ordvdz/Twenty20
Apr 26, 2019
The word no comes up a lot in parenting. When our kids first learn how to talk, it seems like it's said all the time. And in turn, as parents, we need to say no often — to keep our kids safe, healthy and living within social norms.
Sometimes we say no when, in hindsight, we could have easily said yes. And sometimes we say yes and then learn that no would have been the better answer. And as kids grow older, sometimes they will surprise you with occasions when they want you to say no.
Looking for an Out
We can probably all remember a time as a kid when we were asked to play and we just didn’t feel like it. Maybe we didn’t like the activity on offer, or maybe we weren’t super big fans of the person offering. Perhaps we were tired, grumpy and just not feelin’ it. These are all likely scenarios that play out well into adulthood, come to think of it. So sometimes kids want us to say no because they’re not looking for companionship, or an activity, but it’s hard to voice these things as a younger kid and still keep your friends.
I'm OK with the occasional parentally sanctioned no as long as kids get some socializing, and aren’t saying no because they’d always rather watch TV or play video games. And frankly, whether your child is extroverted or introverted, sometimes it's great just to have family time.
Instead of just giving in to all the invitations to say no, I make sure to foster open communication so that I can understand when there could be a problem with friends or socialization — that's key.
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I’ve talked about how my stepdaughter got caught up in playing Fortnite last summer — all summer. At one point she even said, “If you don’t want me playing it so much, just tell me I can’t.” Her dad said, “OK, I don’t want you playing it.” However, he didn’t make it a firm thing with consequences. There was wiggle room for her to play. That’s because, ultimately, we wanted her to realize her own limits and exercise her own judgment about how much was too much. As a teenager, that’s a more realistic expectation than for younger kids, who will need limits and enforcement.
Learning Healthy Decision-Making
It's important to let kids practice making their own decisions in a safe environment, because developing healthy decision-making is a part of growing up. From time to time, when my kids ask about limits, such as “How many cookies am I allowed to have?” or “How many minutes of Netflix can I watch?” I simply reply that it’s up to them. Sometimes that’s because I’m barely functional due to illness, fatigue or a general “had it” attitude with constantly parenting, limiting and controlling. Other times I tell myself that I’m seeing how their own personal judgment skills have developed. Recently, the outcome has been very interesting.
Even when allowed treats, my kids often decline. When permitted games or Netflix, they set their own limits with timers. When, as part of an experiment, I said that they could have doughnuts for breakfast, they quickly realized that they would feel rotten physically if they did that, and said no — all on their own, without fear of reprisal. As parents, we go from saying “no” all the time to gradually easing off to let our kids make their own decisions. Hopefully, we’ve been modeling and teaching healthy choices so that the desirable mode becomes their default, and they don’t become adults who eat ten cookies for breakfast and spend four hours a day playing video games.
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Pushing Limits, Kind Of
Sometimes requests are made of parents with the knowledge that it is a lot to ask for, or that it represents a potential hardship — perhaps financial, or a drain on sleep and overall energy. I’m thinking early morning and late-night drives, expensive purchases and the notorious sleepover — the ultimate drain of everything. Sometimes I think the kids say, “Just say no if you don’t want to,” because they want to be absolved of the possible guilt that comes with the request. They might know that the ask is a big one, or not great timing, or bordering on pushing it. They might be hesitant to make the request and even more hesitant about the consequences if the answer is yes.
But as kids grow up, they need to start to understand the impact of their requests. That will serve them well in relationships, the workplace and their own parenting. So eventually, we can’t always let them off the hook. We have to encourage them to make the request if they feel it is appropriate, and realize that there are consequences. If the kiddos keep parents awake all night with a noisy sleepover, said parents may not be in the mood to go to the park the next day. If parents need to drive their kids all over the place one day on unnecessary tasks, we may have little left when the truly necessary requests come in. So sometimes we can say no, and other times say yes, but we can begin to explain the impact and consequences — in a gentle way, and one that makes kids more aware, not feeling guilty.
No. Yes. Yes. No. It becomes more complicated the older kids get. Rather than have “no” or “yes” be an automatic response, I think it’s important to consider the request, and decide if this is a judgement call that the kids can make on their own (and communicate it as well, in the case of decisions involving friends). Sometimes it might still be important to be the one calling the shots, and that's for you to decide. But in time, kids will learn what answer is appropriate.
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