Parents – How do you use ‘No’? (Mindful Disconnection Pt Four)

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.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )


About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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24 Responses to Parents – How do you use ‘No’? (Mindful Disconnection Pt Four)

  1. BinoandFino says:

    I think I’d be a really unstable mix between parent style 1 and 2 with a dash of 4 thrown in. I have to admit that I’m someone who likes and follows rules. But then I have a flipside that breaks them all the time if I don’t find them relevant. But I guess that’s everyone right? The ‘No’ word is a powerful one. Well it should be. I suppose it can be diluted if not used correctly.

    ‘Many parents say, Yes, to eating rubbish food and late nights; and, No, to spending time with their kids playing.’Great point. Then again I’m not a parent so I might end up being guilty of this. It’s easy to talk from the sidelines. I really hope not though.

    • I don’t think I’d even considered what kind of parent I would be before it all happened. I would say I was number one, went through phases of being number two and number four and never was a number three. Now, almost ten years in the game, I finally know what I’m doing. Yikes.
      You’re right on the dilution of the effect of, No. Certainly doesn’t mean anything when a parent is saying, No Johnny don’t do that, I said no johnny, I really really really mean no, stop it now, no, no I say…and don’t actually do anything about what’s happening. I’m sure you’ll do fine when your time comes Adamu. If not I’ll hound you with advice until you cave in.

  2. mominrome says:

    this has always been a huge question for me….
    I have always heard parents saying NO NO NO to many things.
    Sometimes only because they are actually to lazy to listen to them…
    I hope I will be able to judge when a NO is a real No.
    And when it’s not necessary at all

    • I’m sure you’ll work it out. At least the first year or so you don’t have to worry about it. 🙂 You could always train the dogs to fetch the baby when she wants to touch something she shouldn’t. 😉

  3. Fiona says:

    This was a fantastic post – I think I do a combination of all, but try as much as possible to follow your ‘better’ suggestions. It’s a little harder with teenagers because they will try and talk you around which is when more than ever that you need to be consistent in your message and on the same page as your partner in your responses.

    Hubby is very good at saying no or let me think about it etc etc – so my boys will try me on more occasions than him, thinking I’m a soft touch, that’s the hardest part. Sometimes I will catch them with this one, I’ll tell them my thoughts and then say have you asked your father – perhaps you should ask him too. Most times this works for us. Ahhh the difference between toddlers and teenagers 🙂

    • Hi Fi,
      Pleased you enjoyed this post. I can imagine teenagers would be more intense with their negotiations – the problem I’m going to have is that all of our boys are going to be taller than me. I shall have to be saying, No, to their chests! Craig and I work hard at appearing to be on the same team too, it certainly seems to stop many unreasonable negotiations. Have you read, Nurture Shock, ? There’s a great chapter on teenagers in there. Great to hear from you. 🙂

  4. My parents had the awful habit of saying, ‘Go ask your mother/father,’ so we never were sure whether it was a yes or a no we finally got because the next day the rules/person in charge would have changed!

    What a great post – must point some parents to it. My kids have long since left home.

    • Pleased you like the post, and please point away – I’m here to help.
      The ‘go ask’ scenario would have been frustrating. I’ll say, ask your father, when the kids want to use his tools -mostly because I don’t know how expensive they’ll be to replace, but try not to do it for other things. The most frustrating thing for me is when the kids walk past Craig and come to ask me if they can do something – grrrrrr.

  5. IfByYes says:

    I know this is going to sound weird, but this could have been a dog training article. People make the SAME mistake with their dogs, and the correct usage of the word is exactly the same. Kids, puppies, same diff, right?

  6. Loi says:

    Thanks for this. We are probably of the camp of ‘No’ too often, I think, usually to requests. We do get a lot of negotiations, sometimes I think would put a police negotiator to shame!
    But what I have found worked really well, is the use of positive reinforcement.
    In the case of, not doing something, instead of saying, ‘Don’t leave your clothes on the floor’ we say ‘Put your clothes away’. I read somewhere that kids generally remember only the last word of every sentence so if they hear the right one, they are more likely to act.

  7. Ah thank you so much for yesterday’s post, a fantastic reminder to try and save the NO’s for the important stuff. It really made me listen to myself today, stop when I could feel an unnecessary NO creeping out and pat myself on the back when I was saying ‘not for touching’, ‘etc with the toddler. I found it kept me calmer in my mood, and subsequently we all had a great day.

  8. 30ish Mama says:

    I never thought about what kind of parent I would be until I became one. My daughter is 14 months old and I use “no” a lot, but as you say in D2, I also remove the object from her grasp or remove her from the situation. I really like what you say in regard to disconnect/reconnect. I never thought of that before but it makes perfect sense.

    • Pleased this all makes sense to you. It’s been a great way of directing our kids without getting into a hissie-fit at them. Thanks for commenting, I love it when people do. 🙂

  9. faemom says:

    Brilliant. I think I say “no” too much. Just because I need to rephrase things a little bit. My mom taught me to say “no” only when I needed to; see, her mom always said an automatic “no,” so my mom and her sister justed started to ask their dad instead.

    • LOL @ your Mum’s strategy. I think there’s probably a lot of kids who work their parents like that. Always one of the advantages of being a solo-parent (a friend of mine who was one often said it was one of the bonuses). It’s so easy to say No automatically. Although I have a husband who automatically says yes (mostly to other adults)…and that can be a problem too!

  10. Laura Weldon says:

    If there was a position on which we were flexible, we’d say “no” but be open to changing our minds if the kids gave us three good reasons. Not “because I waaant to” but real reasons. Within a pretty short time our kids became rather expert litigators on their own behalf. Our oldest even whipped out psychology to make his point, such as “I think this experience will help me mature and that’s something that’s important to both of us.” Surprised by the intensity of the response, we backed off. But we still see the effect. Now they present us with carefully considered reasons before asking for a parental decision. I prefer it this way. It makes them think up front but doesn’t hack away at decisions already made.

    • After reading your comment first thing this morning, I tried this strategy with Mr Hare (the nine year-old) who was not keen to put his feet on the cold floorboards and get going. It certainly seemed to make him stop and think. I am cautious about entering negotiations around ‘no’ with children younger than nine, I think that’s why I work so hard at using things like, let me think about it. I believe younger children can feel really unsafe if the adult is too open to negotiations. However, I really like the sound of this strategy for older children, and teenagers. We intend to have some rules which are non-negotiable (not breaking the law; us knowing where they’re sleeping at night; keeping commitments etc) for when our kids are teenagers, and everything else will be taken on a case by case basis. The three good reasons approach I could see working well there.

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