What About Control? Part A… Establishing Boundaries, Part II — Learning to Say “No”! Bringing up Kids God’s Way, Part 22

by | May 15, 2013 | Bringing up Kids God's Way, Family, Parenting

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Prov 22:6 NIV)

Last week we discovered the importance of establishing boundaries with our children when they are young. There is an easy way to do so, even with toddlers, and the secret lays in the use of one, tiny, two-letter word: “NO”!

I admit, it is a dreaded word. At least in the ears of a child. Okay, well maybe none of us really like to hear it! Whether popular or not, however, it is a very necessary word. “No” establishes boundaries. It helps children remember that they are not in charge. It serves to protect them from possible harm or from things that aren’t good for them, and it helps them learn good habits. And believe it or not, it also teaches your children to respect your opinion!

But if “no” is such a wonderful word, why do we, as adults, find it so hard to use? Well, for one thing, our children have especially good ways of keeping us from saying it.

But we can’t blame it all on them. There is also the whole guilt factor, the whole “I don’t want to be a mean mother” attitude, the “I was a kid once” mentality, the “I don’t want to disappoint my kids” way of thinking. And of course, we cannot discount the “it’s something I want, too!” problem.

My favorite excuse to not say “no” is this: But they have so many “no”s in their life, and this is such a little, harmless thing . . . Why not give in, just this once?

My youngest has a very expressive face and beautiful blue eyes that are impossible to resist. I’m okay when my back is turned, and generally the first word out of my mouth is “no”! Then comes the argument: “But mom…”. Invariably I turn around, and that’s when I see those irresistible eyes…

Now his eye color and facial features are not his fault, nor is it his fault that I so often give in to them. And quite frankly, neither is it his fault that he has learned to use his eyes to control my behavior! That’s simply a learned behavior, based on my own faulty responses!

Remember, so often our child’s response to us is simply a result of something we’ve trained into them. If we say “no” and then change our minds because of something they have done (soft eyes, temper tantrums, crying, looks of disappointment, accusations, kisses, bribes, etc), believe me, they’ll try it again. And again. And again! Until it’s a learned pattern!

Remember friends, kids need to have boundaries. No matter what prank your child pulls, “no” is often the appropriate response. But so often hearing this word is enough to set them off onto a streak of rebellion. How can you find the perfect balance between doing what you, as a parent, know you need to do, and still keep the peace?

The secret to the solution lies in being prepared to tell them “why”! I’ve found that most people, adults included, can take the word “no”, as long as it comes attached with a plausible reason.

Imagine this conversation, taking place just before suppertime, with a child who’s been sick and home from school all day:

“Mom, can I have a cookie?”

“No, you may not. It’s just before suppertime and I want your stomach to be empty for the good food.”

“But mom, I’m hungry enough to eat the whole pack of cookies and still have room for supper! Come on, mom!”

Now there are different ways to respond to this scenario. If you begin to contemplate the “what would be the harm of a single cookie?” way of thinking, you’ll probably turn around and say, “Okay!” But what would you have just taught your child? That all he has to do is reason with you and he’ll get his way. Believe me, the next time you say “no”, he’ll maximize this strategy!

What if you response goes something like this? “I realize what you are saying is true. However, the answer is still no. You’re just getting over a cold and too much sugar makes it harder for your body to fight off the virus. You’ve already missed school today. It’s important that you be back in school as soon as possible. We’ll have some supper, and if you still have room after supper, I’ll consider letting you have one of my sugarless date bars instead!”

You child is now able to understand the reason behind your “no”. If it makes sense to him (and it will if you take the time to explain all of the background facts behind your decision), he’ll accept it much faster.

But what happens if you want to say “no”, but so many times in the past you’ve opted for the first option?

Imagine the following scenario:

“Mom, can I have a cookie?”

“No, you may not! It’s almost dinner time and I want you to have room in your stomach for the good food!”

“But mom, you let me have one yesterday, and I still ate my supper!”

“Yesterday I didn’t know you were sick. You don’t need the extra sugar right now!”

“But mom, . . .”

“No more buts. I did give in yesterday. I was afraid you would be mad at me. But then when you only had one scoop of spaghetti instead of your usual three, and when you woke up this morning with a sore throat, I realized that I shouldn’t have allowed the cookie. I’m sorry, but mom sometimes makes mistakes, too. Today the answer is ‘no’. I want you to get well fast, and it’s only by eating the good foods that your body can heal!”

What has happened here? You have owned up to making a mistake, you explained how you knew it had been a mistake, and you stood firm in your decision. Though your son still wants a cookie, he leaves the room realizing that you cared about his well-being enough to say “no”!

It’s a tough word to hear, it’s a tough word to say. But when it’s necessary, say it, and be prepared to fully explain, in a loving way, why you have to use it. In so doing, your child will learn boundaries. He will also learn that when you say “no”, it’s for a good reason, and this will help it to be a bit easier to hear the word next time!

But what about the word, “yes”? Is there a place for “yes” in establishing boundaries as well?

Lyn Chaffart

(To access the entire “Bringing up Kids God’s Way” devotional series, please click here.)


What About Control? Part A… Establishing Boundaries, Part II — Learning to Say “No”! Bringing up Kids God’s Way, Part 22