Saying “No” Is Half the Battle
Preparing your kids for the real world is a full-time endeavor. Balancing discipline with the day-to-day parenting moments is almost always a thankless task. But don’t be fooled. Children who realize they can demand things and receive them if they argue their point, or complain, or make a scene, or refuse to accept any alternative are like sharks at a crowded beach! Do yourself a huge favor and incorporate “no” into your daily vocabulary to help raise stellar adults. And once you've said “no,” stick to your guns.
This past weekend my children joined me for an outing to do a few fun things and also knock out a few of my errands. The last time we ran errands together they complained that we didn’t also do anything fun. So I thought I was being smart by adding a trip to the park this time to address their feedback. After all, I understand; kids don’t want to run errands, they want to play. I even nipped another potential issue in the bud by going to the park first, so I wouldn’t have to listen to them ask every two minutes when we’d be going to the park as I tried to complete my tasks.
The park was fun and my kids thanked me for going their first. Afterwards we were all hungry so we went out for lunch. After that we headed to a party supply store to get items for my youngest’s upcoming birthday party. I did that intentionally so that I could show her errands can be fun sometimes. Then it was off to a few discount retailers to scout for household items. But no sooner were we in the car from the party place before they starting asking for candy, arguing about the radio and asking when we’d be done running errands. At the first discount retailer they kept wandering off, whining when I asked them to stay close to me. They grabbed items off shelves and stomped their feet when I asked them to look with their eyes.
So then I couldn’t really focus on my tasks because I was busy trying to get my children to behave while also trying to avoid a scene in the store. Long story short, at the second discount place my oldest child was very rude to me at check out and I met my limit with their poor behavior. I announced we would be returning home immediately. In the car I asked them why they thought their behavior was acceptable. I explained that I felt it unfair that I let them play at the park and didn’t whine or complain about how soon we’d be leaving, or stomping my feet, or being rude. My youngest then replied, “Well, you didn’t play with us at the park.”
I was hurt. I did sit on a bench while they played at the park. But this is not the norm. I usually walk with them and play tag or hide-&-seek. This time was different because I had a foot injury I was nursing. Nonetheless, this was all beside the point. I told my girls they were not in charge of the day. I told them I expect their best behavior and that we cannot enjoy the time together if they complain every moment we don’t do what interests them. They heard me, but I could tell they didn’t agree. I went home feeling defeated. Once home they apologized and said they would try to behave better.
No Time like the Present
After receiving their apology I needed to take serious action to make them understand how they upset me and that I would not tolerate their behavior. It was time for them to receive a wake-up call. First thing I did was cancel my task of finalizing my youngest’s birthday party date. I assured her (based on her behavior) it could wait until she demonstrated she deserved a party at all. Next I sat down. I didn’t start dinner. I didn’t unload my purchases from the car. I didn’t even let the dog out. Instead, I told my children to walk the dog. When they returned and asked if they could watch TV, I said, “No.” They went to find something else to do. When they returned shortly after to report their boredom I told them to tidy the mudroom. When they began to eye roll and whine at my assignment I told them to desist their actions immediately.
The night continued in the same manner as I made myself clear that they were not in charge of the household. “No” made several appearances throughout this time to address things like dessert after unfinished dinners, a second bed-time story, staying up extra late, and more TV. I kissed them both goodnight and enjoyed some quality porch sitting time for myself, leaving the dishes half done so the girls had boredom fighting tasks for the morning.
Don't Stop Now!
The next morning, I stayed in bed a little longer than usual. I let my more than capable eight-year-old pour the cereal and milk while my sweeter-in-the-morning four-year-old cared for the dog. Sounds like paradise so far, right? But when I came downstairs I found the girls watching TV with their cereal and the dog needing to go outside. So I had them turn off the TV and eat in the dining room after tending to the dog. The rest of the day I took care to consider every request they presented. No, we would not be going to the park again today. No, you can do without TV for now. No, you can’t have a Popsicle right before lunch. No, we won’t be going out somewhere for dinner tonight. It was exhausting. But they didn’t stomp their feet; they didn’t huff in frustration. The day was meltdown-free and I went to bed tired, but hopeful.
Life After "No"
I feel my success rate will continue proportional to the effort I put in to stand firm on this matter. We decided to have my youngest’s birthday party at home until she behaves more consistently in a manner that deserves a birthday out. We will return to the park when I’m ready. Until then, my children have a large kiddy pool in their backyard, bicycles, jump ropes, etc. Moreover I will continue to have my children join me to run errands to teach them chores are a part of life. You can’t just get out of doing necessary tasks because you’d rather play ever minute of the day. This is an important life lesson I want them to master early.
Though not always easy, saying “no” is a critical first step to standing up to overly demanding children. But following through and reinforcing your “no’s” with actions that match the message you’re trying to convey is equally important. Remind your children that you are in charge. Assure them that fun will occur in proportion to their good manners and behavior. Once you get the hang of it, discipline balanced with fun time will seem like natural partners. This isn’t about being the bad guy all the time. It’s about teaching your children how to behave well and then reap the justified rewards.
I encourage you to fight the good fight. Don’t let your children dictate what happens in your home. Be firm, but loving. Perhaps it’s not yet instinctive that saying “no” can lead to fewer tantrums and headaches…but it can!