How To Teach the Important Lesson of “No”
Verbs describe actions. Actions must have a start and a stop. Eating and drinking and running. Driving requires pushing on the accelerator at times, and on the brakes at others. Loving may be an exception, but parenting is not.
Parenting must have its starts and stops or it will break down. Like a firefighter or an emergency room physician, or a 9-1-1 operator, you need to quit when the shift ends, get some sleep and a meal, and take care of yourself, or you will burn out. If you don’t go back to your adult anchors to get refueled, you’ll have nothing to give later.
This means being able to say “no.”
“No, you cannot have another cookie.”
“No, you cannot stay out after midnight.”
“No” is about limits and boundaries, but it’s also about self-care.
It tells the child that his needs can wait. That it’s your turn. That there are limits to what you can and will give, and that you are confident that he’ll be next. That he can wait or that your coParent can handle it and, in either case, that all is well. Of course, “no” can provoke rage, particularly when it’s unfamiliar. Tantrums and its and demands may ensue. You may hear screams of “I hate you” (which mean, “I’m really, really mad at you”) and guilt trips (“Daddy wouldn’t say no!”) and threats of blackmail (“If you don’t, then I’ll run away!”). To give in is to reward these behaviors, and we know that a reward only increases the likelihood that the behavior that earned it will happen again—bigger and badder next time. Why not? It worked.
If the anchor that you provide your children is secure, you’ll weather the storm calm and firm and clear. You’ll show your child by your example not only that you can manage his feelings, but that you have limits. You know when and how to put on the brakes. You can say “no.” You are able and invested in taking care of yourself, and someday he or she will be able to do the same.