Parenting

It’s okay to tell your kids “no”

When I was little, I don’t remember hearing the word “yes” very often. In fact, I was careful what I even asked for because I felt like if I saved my asking for the things that I REALLY cared about, there might be a chance. I went to the grocery store with my mom. We bought groceries. No toys. No candy. No treats. If I asked for a toy or something that I saw on TV, I was told that I should put it on my birthday or Christmas list. It was extremely rare that we splurged any other time. Were we poor and unable to afford the extras? No! If my parents had wanted to splurge, they could have. But we just didn’t. Honestly, looking back on it, it made the times that they did say “yes” seem so much more exciting and I appreciated it so much more.

So then why, as parents nowadays, do we feel bad saying “no” to our kids? I don’t think it’s just me, based on my experiences with kids in the classroom. I think it’s our culture now to give our kids as much of what they want as we can. Of course, we have limits and when we absolutely can’t, we say “no”. But I would venture to say that our kids hear “yes” more than they hear “no” these days. It’s creating a group of kids that are very entitled. Did we mean to do this? Absolutely not! We’re trying to be good parents. But buying them something each time we go to the store isn’t treating them. Sooner or later, it won’t be enough. THAT will be expected and they will want something additional as a “treat”. Think about when you plan a vacation or a getaway…is it enough? When we were little, one night in a hotel was an exciting adventure and we cherished every moment. It was awesome! Now, I feel like kids get to go places and do things all the time and it’s still not enough. They come back, ready for the next big thing and as parents, we’re scrambling to one-up ourselves. It’s exhausting!

I have to wonder, too, if some of this “yes” business is what’s leading to obesity in kids. I have no research or data on it, but know that it is an ever-growing problem. This brings me to my point of this whole article. The lunch box analogy. As a teacher, I see kids bringing lunches to school filled with the stuff that would have been considered a treat in the past. Their whole lunch box is filled with treats with very little nutritional value. These items are not considered treats anymore…it’s considered their lunch! And THEN they have candy or something even better for their “treat”. It’s the perfect metaphor for what’s happening with kids. One treat was expected, then it became the norm and another treat was added to try to make them happy and surprised. It just kept happening until the stuff that was good for them didn’t fit in the lunch box anymore and it was pushed aside. Instead of caring about their needs, we gave in to their wants.

Hearing “no” is good for our kids! They learn limits, boundaries, moderation, anticipation, self-regulation…all of the things that entitled children don’t seem to have. Imagine if that parent packed their child’s lunchbox to contain all fruits and veggies and a plain old meat and cheese sandwich. (I’ve seen this happen!) The kid opens it up and there’s pouting, shock, bewilderment and usually a refusal to eat anything that’s in there. They go home, complain and whine to their parents how hungry they were, and those treats begin showing up again in lunch boxes. Parents say they don’t have a choice because if they don’t send the treats, their kids will go hungry! Now stop and think about it…will the kids actually starve? No. Will they actually become hungry enough to eat the things that are good for them? Eventually, they probably will. But the kids are in charge. They’re entitled to whatever they want and they know how to make it happen. We’re so busy trying to be good parents, we aren’t realizing what is happening!

Like I said before, it’s really not about the lunch, so even if you send healthy, nutritious, organic lunches with your child (way to go!), I’m still talking to you! I’m referring to the metaphor for what we as teachers have to do in schools. We have to give them what is good for them (hard work, learning, responsibility, self-control, rules…). They don’t like it. They want all of the fun things, but we can’t just give them all of the fun things! They act up, throw fits, go home and then complain to their parents. Sometimes it goes further and it comes back to us as teachers. You guys, it’s HARD to take away the stuff they like and replace it with what they need, especially when that’s all they’ve known in their little worlds. We love them though, and it’s our job to help them adjust to this new normal. For them however, it’s hard to come to school when it’s full of the stuff they don’t have to have or do elsewhere. It seems like year after year, I have concerned parents telling me that after the first month or so, their child is not wanting to come to school and they can’t figure out why. There’s not a specific reason, there’s nothing happening to cause this, there’s really no explanation. Usually, it’s because the novelty of school has worn off and it’s a lot of work that they don’t want to do. If this has been you as a parent, it’s okay! Don’t panic! I saw it happening with my own kids, too. It opened my eyes when I really sat down to analyze what was going on. It’s not too late to make changes to fix this. I can tell you that my kids are going to be hearing “no” a lot more than they hear “yes” this summer before we head back to school. And when I say, “no”, there won’t be a discussion about why I’m saying it. That is really only a tactic to try to persuade me to change my mind. “No” means “no”. I’ve learned a lot in my 14 years of parenting and this is one little gem! Ha!! When it comes down to it, I’m not doing this to be mean, but to break the cycle of entitlement. I love them too much to let them turn out that way. You CAN say “no” and still be a good parent. Actually, you NEED to say “no” in order to be a good parent and it’s never too late to turn things around!