I Let My Children Say "NO!"
I have two beautiful, intelligent, independent daughters. And I let them say "NO!"
Me: "Please go and put on your socks."
Either daughter: "No!"
What is your reaction as a parent? Do you reel with indignant anger that your child would dare say "No!" to you? Do you feel frustrated? Does your mind race with thoughts of what to say to get your child to listen?
My mind does race with those same thoughts of what to say...
Let me tell you first what I have seen some fellow mommies do when their child says "No!"
Once, at a fellow mommy's house for a play date with her son, he said "No!" because she wanted him to pick up his toys.
She slapped him in the mouth and told him something I've heard mothers and fathers say many times to their children -- "Don't you ever say No! to an adult!"
When she swung to slap his mouth, one of her fake nails hit him in the eye and he fell on the floor sobbing and clutching his eye. No matter what he told her, she didn't believe that she had hit his eye. I told her that she had hit his eye, and I proceeded to check his eye that there was no damage. Thankfully, there wasn't. Only then did she believe that maybe she had. Because I am an adult.
Her hitting his eye is an extreme. But I've seen in public strangers and even fellow mommies and neighbors slap their child in the face for "talking back" because they said "No!"
The words that always came out with that action was always some sort of version of "You don't say No! to adults!" or "Don't talk back to grown ups!" or "When I tell you something, you have no right to say No!" or, word it however you want.
Sometimes, I hear these words without the child being slapped in the mouth. Sometimes, it's a spanking. Sometimes, it's the mother grabbing the child by the upper arm and hissing it in his or her face. Sometimes, it's just a time-out.
In the end, what is the child being taught? You cannot say No! And, I'm bigger than you.
No harm, right? Children shouldn't talk back to their parents. Or to grown ups. Because otherwise, they will grow up to become disrespectful to the older generation and others around them.
But, I let my kids say "No!"
And it takes extra effort.
When they say "No!", I have to get to their eye level and discuss with them what it was that was asked of them, why they said "No!" and why I would appreciate them helping me and listening and doing what was asked.
And, most times, they cooperate. They walk off, most times happy, sometimes a bit grumpy, but still cooperative. And then, the added effort, my thanking them for cooperating and why it was asked of them and how it makes me feel as their Mama that they helped me. And then, they smile and run off and do what it was that had been interrupted in the first place -- playing.
The effort sometimes is frustrating. It takes extra time. But, there is a reward in it.
I thought about this long and hard when holding my first newborn daughter. How sick some people in the world are, how some people hurt little children. How I didn't want my daughters to become victims, if I could help it.
And it dawned on me. If I told them again and again, "You are not allowed to say No!", it would be ingrained in their minds. And, if I only talk to them once in a while about not letting people touch them and about walking away from a bully, which message would end up winning out? "You are not allowed to say No!" because it's enforced more throughout their childhood.
And because, when they say "No!", they are establishing themselves as unique independent individuals with a free will of their own. With a body and mind of their own.
They aren't pushing my buttons to see how far they can push me. They aren't trying to get away with being lazy or selfish.
They just want to tell me "Mommy, I don't want to do this." And it's my job to tell them why something is being asked of them. That I'm not trying to force them into something terrible, but that it is for their own benefit.
And sometimes, I have let the "No!" win out. Once, my older daughter was 2 1/2 and wanted to wear a skirt in the middle of winter. With no tights. And a t-shirt, sandals, and her rain coat.
After trying to explain about weather and seasons and temperature and staying warm by dressing correctly for the weather, I smiled. I said, "OK, let's go. You will be cold. And when you get cold, tell me and we will go inside and change to what Mama is telling you to wear. Sound good?"
She smiled, walked outside with me, in the cold, not dressed warm at all. She didn't make it to the car. We came inside, I dressed her in the right kind of clothing for the cold weather outside, she hugged me and we left to go to the library.
Both of my daughters, however, have wonderful manners and I am told regularly by other adults how well-mannered they are. They say "Yes, Please," "No, thank you," "May I please...," "Excuse me," and stand up for their friends when someone is being mean to them. They clean their rooms daily. They go to bed without too much of a protest, brush their teeth, and help me around the house. They look shocked when someone is mean to someone else. My older daughter is trying to be a vegetarian because she thinks it's sad that animals have to be killed for their meat, entirely her decision. So, they aren't brats who get away with being disrespectful toward others.
It's not a magic bullet. They still argue sometimes. They don't want a shot. They might not want a nap. They don't always want go to school instead of staying home and playing with a new toy and each other.
But their independent spirits are still alive. And I believe that if a boyfriend is ever mean to them, they will have the strength to say "NO!" and walk away. Or, if an adult ever tries to grab them, that they will kick and scream and shout "NO!" and will put up a fight that could possibly save their life.
Or, if a supervisor wants them to do something unethical, that they will stand up for their beliefs. The possibilities of how this life skill might help them is endless.
So, I get on my knees, sigh internally because I really don't feel like having to explain myself as the adult, and I talk to them. As an equal. Because, to me, they are.
One day, they will be adults.
Everyone has their own parenting style. This is not a criticism of how others parent. This is just what I do and what works for us, and why. I'm not perfect, no parent is.
However, if your parenting style includes hitting your child and you regularly feel frustrated, please talk to your pediatrician and find out about parenting classes that could help you learn other methods. For your sake, and for your child's.
Kasia Price writes on Polish Mama on the Prairie
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Photo Credit: marc falardeau.