As I plucked a family-sized box of Cheerios from the grocery store shelf yesterday afternoon, a shrill noise came up behind me and I jumped so much, the box jerked from my hand to the floor. Rounding the corner was a woman with hair falling from her ponytail, pushing a cart with one hand and pulling a toddler with the other.
“But, I want it!”
“Honey, I know you do. But, it’s almost dinner time, and you just had a cookie.”
“I. Want. It!”
“Honey, yes, but it’s not good for you to have too many sweets. What about these? These are good for you?”
“I. Want. It!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the mother wipe a tear from her eye. No doubt this had been going on the whole time they had been shopping. I pitied her, because I’ve been there so many times. Being a parent can suck. But I rooted for her.
Come on! Say it! I know you can. Just say…
“Okay, sweetie, go ahead. I guess one won’t hurt.” She swept the little girl into the seat of the cart, ripped open a bag of cookies, and inserted one into the child’s open hand. The mother avoided my gaze as they rolled past me, but the little girl smiled at me with soft brown goo and chocolate specks all over her lips.
Another one bites the dust.
“No” is a dying word among parents today. Parenting books advise parents to redirect young kids rather than tell them no, because of the negative connotation of the word. And I agree with that tactic as a first line of attack. But even young kids develop the skills of a lawyer (or terrorist). And by the time they are teenagers, they know exactly how long it will take you to give in. The problem is, by the teen years, the stakes are much higher than cookies. We’re talking sex, and drugs and alcohol…we’re talking their lives.
I’m guilty of giving in, of trying to keep my kids happy. And of just wanting them to like me! But, I’m here to tell you that it is okay to say no to your kids. In fact, it is your duty. Do you think you can do it?
Decide on your rules and be consistent
Know where you stand on issues. Are you okay with your ten year old playing violent video games? Will you let your teenage daughter stay out until midnight? Reflect on your own upbringing. Do you come from a culture where parents are the ultimate authority, or one where the kids rule the roost? Ask other parents how they deal with issues, then determine your stance. Write it down. This way, when an issue arises with your kid, your confidence and consistency will be apparent to your kid.
Listen to your kid
Let your kid explain what they want and why they want it. Use active listening skills. So your teenager says, “I want to go to Bobby’s house tonight. Susie’s parents are cool and are letting her go.” Hear her out. Even if you know that Bobby is popular because his parents go to sleep at 9:00 with the liquor cabinet unlocked, say, “I hear going to Bobby’s house tonight is important, and you hope we will let you go because Susie’s parents are letting her go.” Keep emotion out of it. Just let her know that you are hearing her pleas.
Express your decision
Tell your kid your decision with a brief explanation. Keep emotion and judgment of others out of it. Don’t say Susie’s parents are bad parents for letting her go. Whether you say no to a new Barbie or no to Bobby’s party, it is what it is. Stay firm.
Do not engage
This is the hardest part. When the gnashing of teeth and shrill shrieks of despair begin, show no fear. Do not negotiate with a terrorist. I’ve learned the hard way, that if you justify your decision at this point, your kid is not going to miraculously perk up and say, “Why, thank you for protecting me, parent! I love you.” Your kid will latch onto your words, and pull you into the depths of anger, of glares, of tears, and of venom. Don’t take the bait. If your kid says, “I hate you,” go in another room to wipe your tears.
I have struggled with this myself with my kids, but I believe it or not, I actually heard these words from one my older sons just last week.
“Thank you for being a little strict. It kept me out of trouble.”
Do you agree? Do you think I’m full of it? I want to hear what you think!