“No.” A small word, but yet a powerful one. And . . . one I use often . . . with my kids. They need to hear it. Some days, it seems that they need to hear it more often than usual. It’s such a small word, but if used wisely, it can help us lead our kids towards the very path that God has for them.
That word “no”. What emotions quickly come to mind when you hear it? For me, the word “no” often is followed by feelings of disappointment, frustration, anger, or sadness. For my kids, the word “no” is often followed by physical displays of their disappointment, frustration, anger, or sadness. These come in the forms of tantrums, screaming fits, hitting others, saying unkind words to others, slamming doors, or sobbing hysterically. Can you relate to that at all? The word “no” often brings a negative reaction when used, and I think that because it often brings a negative reaction, there are times as a mom, that I’d rather give in and say, “yes” when in reality, I should be saying, “no”. There are times that I fail to tell my kids “no” simply because I am too tired to deal with the consequences. Have you ever been there?
There have also been times that I failed to tell my kids “no” because I was worried about being that mom. That mom who was too overprotective. That mom who was too strict. That mom who was no fun. Sometimes I said, “yes” to things that looking back on, I should have said, “no”. I only said, “yes” because I was afraid of what others would think of me. Can you relate to that? I think if we’re honest, many of us would agree that we can.
But even though, we may get a negative reaction from our kids, why is it important for us to sometimes tell them, “no”? First, kids need boundaries. They actually thrive when given boundaries. Boundaries are those limits we put in place that keep our kids safe physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I read some interesting information on brain development that shows why it is so important for us as parents to set boundaries for our kids.
Our brains develop from back to front, and the prefrontal cortex is the last area of the brain to fully develop. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for the following: our ability to reason, think logically, problem solve, plan, focus, develop and carry out goals, and control our impulses. It also plays a key part in the development of our personality. In addition, and don’t miss this bit . . . it is not fully developed until we are 25. Age 25! Until our kids are at the age of 25, they are not developmentally ready to make the best decisions that will keep them safe. As parents, that is our job. As parents, we have to set and clearly explain boundaries that will keep our kids safe.
Secondly, our kids need to learn how to deal with disappointment and frustration. As adults, they will not get everything they want when they want it and will face the disappointments and frustrations from being told “no”. Our job as a parent is to give them practice on how to handle these feelings appropriately. Teach them what you do when you feel disappointed or frustrated. Teach them the appropriate response when they don’t get what they want when they want it. Kids who are given opportunities to work through disappointments and frustrations when they are young and learn how to cope with them develop into mature adults who have patience and empathy for others.
I read an interview of Betsy Brown Braun who is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist. She explains what can happen if kids aren’t given clear boundaries or always get what they want.
“These are the kids who often have trouble playing nicely with others; they have a hard time socializing because they have never experienced being anything but king. They have a hard time keeping friends, a hard time interacting in groups, a hard time taking turns. They seldom know how to delay gratification; they want what they want when they want it, and they have a tough time in the world, interacting with others. Once children get beyond (preschool) and kindergarten, the real world is not going to give them just what they want all the time or even most of the time. Their world is then full of disappointment, and they blame it on everyone else, not taking any responsibility themselves. These children aren’t able to look into themselves and say, ‘Gosh, this is happening because I wasn’t helpful or I didn’t give him a turn.’ They often see the world as being against them. A person’s ability to socialize, to interact with others cooperatively, to be part of a team, to be both leader and follower all grow out of his having learned to accept boundaries and to tolerate the frustrations that result from other’s needs and wants, in addition to his own, that he will no doubt encounter.”
We need to allow our kids to have times when they experience disappointment and frustration. We need to give them opportunities to experience delayed gratification. Kids who learn these skills at a young age will learn that they won’t always have the perfect tool for every job, and they will learn how to adapt and work through difficult situations. It is so important that our kids hear, “no” from us sometimes.
Now, what are some situations our kids may face where we may need to say, “no”? First, it is appropriate to say, “no” when their actions might hurt someone or break something. Going back to how the brain develops, kids may have difficulty seeing how their actions may result in a bad outcome. They need our guidance in making safe choices.
Secondly, we need to say, “no” to doing those things we do for our kids when the responsibility should be theirs. How many times have you been rushing to get out of the door on time in the morning and find it easier and faster for you to tie your kindergartener’s shoes rather than letting him do it himself? I’ve done it many times, even with my second grader. But, let me ask you this. What lesson is my child learning when I tie his shoes for him? He’s learning that even if he can do it, mom will usually step in and do it for him. And that attitude can follow him into the classroom. He may then believe that if mom will tie his shoes for him then surely his teacher will as well. From personal experience, I can tell you that your child’s teacher does not have time to tie everyone’s shoes! We need to be giving our kids age appropriate responsibilities and stepping back and letting them do them. A toddler can help clean up toys. A preschooler can learn how to put away laundry. An elementary school child can make his own lunch. Model for your child how to complete the task, offer support, and then let him do it. This teaches him responsibility.
Thirdly, we need to say, “no” when it is a want, not a need. This ties into delayed gratification. Our kids need to learn that in life, you will not always get what you want. They need opportunities to experience the disappointment that comes from that. They need to learn that they can live without it that thing that they really wanted.
My oldest had a birthday recently, and we got him a cell phone. He was beyond excited because he has been asking for a cell phone for the past two years. According to him, every student in the entire school has his own phone, and he was the only student in his grade that didn’t have one. While this very well might be true, when it came down to it, he didn’t actually need a phone. He simply wanted one. Sometimes our kids need to learn to live without those things they really want.
Fourth, we need to learn to say, “no” when plans change. Life happens and sometimes we find ourselves in unexpected circumstances. Take those opportunities and teach your child the value of patience and flexibility. I think much of mothering takes patience and flexibility. Give your kids practice with both.
Another situation that we may face when it is appropriate to say, “no” is when someone else’s needs (temporarily) matter more. Kids are naturally self-centered. It is important that you model and teach them how to care for others whose needs are greater than our own current needs. Through this, children learn to consider other’s feelings and learn how to be generous to those in need. For example, you might need to tell your child: “No, you cannot go to your friend’s house on Saturday. It sounds like fun, but we are helping your aunt move to her new house. She needs our help that day.” Sometimes, we must say, “no” when someone’s else’s needs matter more.
It’s also appropriate to say, “no” to something you know you will regret. Our local college offers swim lessons twice a year. My younger two love going to these lessons, and I love them because they come away from those lessons having learned so much. They offer three, week-long sessions, and this is where I have had to exercise the power of “no” with my kids. If it was up to my younger two, we would attend all three sessions. That is three straight weeks of swimming lessons every night during the week. And I . . . just can’t go there. It’s too much in an already packed schedule. To sign my kids up for all three weeks would be a decision I would regret, so I’ve said, “no”. Saying, “no” to things you know you will regret will teach your children about setting healthy boundaries and how to compromise.
And lastly, it is completely appropriate to say, “no” when it’s something that is against those very things you value most. You will have to make some difficult decisions as a parent. Make decisions that are wise for your family even when they go against everything the world is telling you. Romans challenges us by saying,
“Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
Romans 12:2 (MSG)
Don’t be afraid to say, “no” to those things that go against everything you value and believe. This teaches your child the value of integrity, courage, and holding close to those beliefs that you cherish most.
Now, how do we say, “no” to our kids in a way that is loving yet effective? First, be clear and firm as you address the behavior that is inappropriate. Being clear and firm is not yelling at your child as loud as you can. It’s getting down to your child’s level, looking directly in his eyes (this shows him that what you are saying is important and needs his attention), calmly addressing the negative behavior and reminding your child of the boundaries that have been set. “We don’t pee on our sister in the bathtub. If you need to pee, please get out and use the potty.” (This may or may not have happened in our house!) Now, there will be situations that you may need to yell, “no”. If your child is running towards a busy street, that is a situation when it is completely appropriate time to do so. Most times, however, clearly and firmly addressing the behavior with your child will work.
Next, it is important to remain consistent when telling your child, “no”. What do I mean by this? If you are consistent in your parenting, it means that you intentionally choose how you engage with or respond to your child, and this does not vary over time. If you don’t let your son pee on your daughter today, that means that he still will not be allowed to pee on her tomorrow. Our kids thrive when we are consistent. They quickly learn that some behaviors are going to always be off-limits. Now, it is also important to note that you and your spouse need to be on the same page when it comes to your parenting and be consistent together. A child who learns that he can get away with a negative behavior with one parent will use that to manipulate situations to get what his own way. Be consistent in how you use the word, “no”.
Lastly, look for the teachable moments. Teachable moments are those times throughout our day when God gives us the opportunity to pour truth into our kids. It’s those times when we can teach them about how God wants us to live. When we tell our kids, “no”, there are teachable moments there. When we tell our kids, “no”, there are valuable lessons to be learned. The hardest part in all of this . . . is actually taking the time and having the patience to do it. Because, I won’t lie to you . . . it takes work. But, mama, let me tell you something. It is so worth your effort!
And that leads me to one last thing. I want to remind you, that one of God’s greatest desires is for your child to come to know and love Him. God wants you, as a parent, to teach your child about Him and to raise your child in a way that follows the commands He has given us. We cannot expect our churches or our schools to take on this responsibility for us. They can be a great support, but we are the parents. We are the ones to whom God entrusted these little people. And He tells us how to do this. In the book of Deuteronomy we find these words,
“Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.”
Deuteronomy 6:5-8 (MSG)
God wants our kids to grow up as independent, kind, responsible adults. I want that too. I want my kids to grow up to be adults that I actually want to hang out with. But, God also wants our kids to live lives that honor Him. He wants our kids to love Him. As mamas, our job is to lead them down that path. Our job is to say, “no” to those things that we know will lead our kids the wrong way. Proverbs promises us the following:
“Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6 (MSG)
I love how The Message translations says that . . . “when they’re old they won’t be lost.” I can’t promise you that your child won’t stray from the path God has for him at some point. But, I can tell you this; once God has captured the heart of your child, He won’t let go.
Mama, you have been called to a great work. God has chosen you to lead your children down a path that honors Him. It won’t always be easy. Being a mama is hard, but it also brings such joy. I pray that you would continue to seek Him, and I pray that He would continue to give you the wisdom needed to fulfill this calling He’s placed on your life. You’ve got this, mama.
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