How to Lovingly Tell Your Child “No”

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It seems a commonplace thing in this day and age to see parents unable to say “no” to their child or to not allow consequences to happen because their child was not following rules or was misbehaving. A common misconception in parenting is that you need to be permissive for your children to like you. I’d like to dispel that myth and to also give some real-world examples of things you can do/say that will establish a boundary while also respecting your child’s spirit.

A lot of parents, I believe, give their children the world because they love them and because they have some sort of guilt that drives them to give in to their child’s whims and desires. Whether it’s because they wish they had more time together as a family, that the mom/dad wishes they could be a stay-at-home-parent, or a parent who, by necessity, has to work long hours and family time is severely limited.

Regardless of the reason why there’s guilt, all parents need to know that a child doesn’t want your presents, they want your presence. So even if that means going to the park for a few hours on the weekend, going to an indoor playground, baking holiday cookies together, or having them help you with a yard work project, children love to spend time with their parents, where everyone is fully engaged in what’s going on. Being fully involved is where it’s at with children and that’s what they want more than anything. I know my fondest memories as a child were simple things that I did with just my mom or my dad. Best memories.

So, with all that in mind, onto the topic of the article- how to lovingly tell your child “no”. Since children want your time and presence, they also want to know and understand the boundaries (or limits, rules, expectations, etc.) of the household and what you expect from them as far as behavior goes. It’s essential to have an understanding of what you want this to look like before any corrective action is taken when a situation arises. And also how intensely you want to have the consequences be for an infraction.

For me, it’s essential that my children are: considerate of others, use their words, use their manners, clean up after themselves (clothes, food, toys, etc.), don’t throw things indoors, are helpful, follow the house rules (that truly apply everywhere), and take care of their belongings. So, everything I do is geared around these core values and I set out each day to teach them these skills through “teachable moments”, which are just everyday moments of things that come up where I can make an impact on them for their betterment.

It’s also essential to take into consideration your family’s values. For me, I don’t believe in buying my child something every time we go to the store- I find this frivolous, expensive, and unnecessary. I’ve felt this way since the beginning, so my children know not to expect something. But on occasion (2-3 times a year or so), I’ll let them know they can pick out a ____ today while we are at the store. Whether it’s a toy, a book, some candy from the checkout area, etc. I let them indulge a bit because I want them to have this be an occasional thing but not the norm. So they appreciate it. If my child wants a (fill-in-the-blank) and I’m not buying that today, I’ll say, “Should we add that to your list?” and this seems to satisfy their need and urge to want something, for me as a parent to acknowledge that they want it and to have them feel understood. Win-win situation.

If your child is making grunting sounds and pointing at something (and they are old enough to use words to communicate), you can say “Do you need something? Use your words,” and let them try to communicate with you. If they won’t try or keep grunting, you can say, “Ok, well let me know when you’re ready to use your words,” and then move on with what you’re doing and they can ask you later. If they are having trouble expressing themselves, or you can guess what they are trying to say, go ahead and use this: “Do you need help? Say ‘help please’.” or “Do you want more food? Say ‘more food please’.” This teaches them the exact phrase they need to use to communicate with you and you can work some manners in there, too.

Teaching children manners is similar. If a child looks like they are trying to get past someone else, you can say, “Oh, you’re trying to get by? Say ‘excuse me please’ and wait for her/him to move.” or “What do you say? Say ‘thank you‘.”

For my kids, they know that throwing mulch, sand, dirt, etc. at the park means that we instantly pack up and go home. I tell them of this when we get to the park and they both know what’s expected. If they don’t follow my rules, then we leave. That in itself is punishment enough, and I tell them, “Ok, you threw mulch. We’re going home now because of that,” and there’s no negotiating out of it, it’s a one-and-done kind of deal.

It’s also essential that you, as a parent, don’t say something to your child where they can have a choice in the matter if it’s truly a non-negotiable. Things like “Do you want to wear your seat belt?” or “Can you put your shoes on?” or “Do you want to go in there [daycare]?” aren’t really the best way to go about addressing this issue.

Instead, make a declarative sentence: “Time to put your seat belt on.” and “Let’s get your shoes on.” and “It’s time to go to daycare.” are all much better ways to show your child what is going on and also to let them see that it’s something that needs to be done or to happen and that isn’t a negotiable thing.

For things that truly are a choice, like the pink or red shirt, or what pair of socks, or something inconsequential like that, then by all means offer a choice to your child. But for important things, especially those related to safety, you as the parent need to take on the leadership role and tell your child what it is they need to do. It’s not bossy, it’s just what a parent needs to be- a benevolent leader who gives directives and shows their children the ways of the world.

Develop your own phrases for things that will help your child grow and to help them get the gears in their mind turning for critical thinking skills, which is something that will help them along and will do them well in life.

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