Many parents over-use the word, No.
Many parents say, No, and then back-down.
Many parents say, Yes, to eating rubbish food and late nights; and, No, to spending time with their kids playing.
Many parents won’t use, No, at all.
Parents: None of these approaches is helpful for raising resilient children.
Optimal Parenting begins with having a great emotional connection with our children. (I have two posts on signs of great parenting in my ‘Signs All’s Well’ folder). The greater children feel connected to their parents, the more likely they will trust their parents’ guidance. And children will follow their parents non-verbal cues first then their verbal ones.
1. Some parents continuously say, No, to their children. In terms of brain development this means that the children are constantly experiencing having the brakes on. They will struggle to learn to trust themselves, especially if the parents are a bit light on the emotional support. These are the people (parents and children) we all know who are intense about following the ‘rules’ – whichever ones they find that confirm their original beliefs about order and structure and routine and submission and dominance and competition and yes-sir-no-sir. To the T with i’s dotted. They can’t trust themselves; they have to find external people/directions to trust. They panic if the rules change and get a bit cross with those changing them. They don’t like wishy-washy hippies who sleep with their kids. 😉
2. Some parents say, No. Then they say, Maybe. Then they say, Weeeeelll OKay then, but just this once. Know which parents I’m talking about? These are the parents who can’t commit. They bed-share sometimes, because it feels good; and the don’t bed-share other times, because Aunt Mary told them not to. They hug their kids often; and don’t back off if the kids aren’t keen for a hug. They say they want independent children; and they over-protect. These parents are trying to drive with the brake and accelerator on at the same time. The children of these parents will end up being great negotiators, and often the parents find themselves regretting that they weren’t more firm. This is thin-end of the wedge stuff.
3. Some parents want their children to be dolls. You know, dress them up, give them whatever they want, then put them away when it’s not convenient. Brakes on emotional needs and accelerator on physical wants = child who parent can’t handle by the age of six. (There is a post on Childish Parents which goes more into this.)
4. Some parents try too hard. These parents over-talk and under-act. Warm and nurturing; kind and caring; gentle and hopeful – and unable to say, No. These parents are great at emotional support and giving their children the freedom to learn at their own pace. They are also really, really bad at helping their children put the brakes on. A friend of mine, who was raised this way, says this: “When I was nine and Mum had a dinner-party, if I wanted to play with the play-dough at the same time, I got to play with the play-dough. It was ridiculous. By 13 I was doing all sorts of things I shouldn’t have been doing. It was dangerous. I was dangerous. It took me until the age of 25 to get my life back on track and I did everything in between times: stuff I never want my kids to do.”
So, how to use, No, in the most useful way.
A. Firstly use it rarely. Come up with alternative phrases, for example, we use, Not for touching. It sounded cumbersome to start with, but now we can walk into a shop I can say, This is a not for touching shop, and our kids know exactly what *that* means. It also means that you’re not over-using, No, when babies and toddlers touch things, which you don’t want them to touch. We also use, Uh-uh, in a firm tone. It means the same, but it also means, No, can stay in reserve – as the last-ditch-end-of-the-line-boundary-setting word. We also use the word, Stop with the hand-signal. It’s great for children to use too. Our 21 month old Butterfly uses it during rough-and-tumble or tickle-fests.
B. Use, Let me think about it. This has been magic. And I really do sit there and think about what they have asked. It’s so easy for parents to say, No, and then realise that the request was reasonable – so back-down. Doing this kind of thing puts us into the parents who can’t commit basket. By using, Let me think about it, our kids get to do things they want to do more often; and they know that, No, means – No.
C. Use your tone of voice to convey the intensity of the, No. Can I go to Tim’s house, just before dinner time = No, as if you’re having a conversation. Child banging the windows with a hammer = NO!
D1. Back your words with your body-language. Yep, Meaningful Disconnection. With child who wants to go to Tim’s house (above) say, No, and turn your attention elsewhere. This conveys that there is no more discussion. You have said, No. No, stands. If they ask why not (older child) point at the clock – and let them work it out for themselves. The parents are not the one who has to do the learning here, the children are. If the child is young or the reason isn’t obvious, explain – but keep the explanation as short as possible. (It’s nearly dinner time.) Find your full-stop as soon as possible. You’re not negotiating or reasoning. You’re explaining the decision.
D2. With the child banging windows sort of, No. Get up, get moving, and match your body-language to your words. NO! Remove hammer from hand and put child somewhere else. Or remove child and show them somewhere they can hammer. Give the direction, we hammer on wood outside. Again: few words, matched with an action.
D3. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to use, No, when a well-connected child has had a period of time with their parents and then the parents need to have time to do something else. I used this yesterday when the Butterfly (21 months) had had a long swing and then wanted me to go into the sandpit, and I needed to eat. I said, you go and dig I’m going inside. He motioned for me to come with him. I said, No I’m going inside, and turned away – Mindful Disconnection. He watched me for a second and then happily went off to the sandpit alone. I later went out and spent some time with him, ensuring I re-connected.
E. Parents: lastly, rarely, if ever, back-down. Yes, I know sometimes you think afterwards that you were a bit intense, or you really didn’t need to say, No. Store this memory and work at using the, let me think about it, phrase. I think of it as using the rule of three: for every time that you back-down you will have at least three more intense attempts from your child to force you to back down. For every three times you stick to your guns, there will be three times fewer attempt to challenge your boundary.
F. Reconnect. Make sure that your child can still hold your eye-contact in a warm and unfearful way. A hug or purposeful glance work well. A touch on the shoulder can sometimes be enough. If parents don’t reconnect the children’s levels of stress-hormone don’t reduce and the learning becomes about avoiding pain not the issue at hand. (See parenting style number one.)
Boundary setting doesn’t often need to be mean or intense. It does need to be that dreaded-awful word = consistent. Children need to have strong emotional bonds, certainly. Children need to be able to explore and learn through play and adventures their parent might not feel comfortable with, absolutely. And they need to have times when we put the brakes on for them. They won’t automatically learn to do this for themselves. The ability to self-manage begins here with Mindful Disconnection. The next post on this will be on strategies for children older than six. (Although using, No, well continues to be useful.)
The series on Mindful Disconnection began here: Connection and Disconnection: Optimal Parenting Part One.
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