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Say Yes To Saying No

It's not always easy, but setting limits helps kids and parents

If you think digging in the parental heels by saying “no” will have negative effects on your child, think again. At Connected Parenting, an organization that offers parenting courses and workshops to schools and organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada, parent and child therapist Cindy Smolkin says that telling kids “no” helps build confidence and competence.

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“When parents hesitate to use 'no', they’re teaching kids that the world has no limits — that there are no obstacles for them to overcome,” Smolkin says, “By providing a fair and appropriate balance of nurturing and giving, as well as limit setting and structure, children can grow to become healthy, strong and resilient adults.” The end result is more harmony at home, and that, is the biggest yes of all.


It builds resilience.

According to Smolkin, telling a child “no” teaches them important lessons such as how to deal with life’s disappointment and hurdles, and how to handle those feelings attached to not getting their way. “We call it the ‘neuropathway of tolerating adversity’,” she says. “Each time a child has an experience where they find a way to tolerate a no, they are strengthening this brain muscle and building their own capacity for resilience — it’s like a layer of Teflon that enables kids to roll with the punches.”


It keeps them safe.

When it comes to your kid’s safety, such as wearing a seat belt or a helmet when biking, these “nos” are non-negotiable. While a child’s response may be very emotional and dramatic, parents need to present and stick to a firm “no” followed with a calm explanation of the safety issue.


It sets limits and boundaries.

Sure, seeing Junior throwing a tantrum in the middle of the mall may not convince you that he wants limits and consistency, but think of it as a cry for help. Kids rely on adults to show them boundaries. “Children do better when they have absolute clarity of where the immovable walls are,” says Smolkin. If at first you say “no”, then change it to a “yes” after seeing tears, or because you’re too tired to uphold the “no”, it will create future anxiety for kids when they’re told they can’t get what they want.


Smolkin reminds parents that they shouldn’t compromise their values in order to not upset a child. Setting these limits can put an end to unreasonable requests, like demanding the newest phone or gadget, or to rude, disrespectful behavior. However, it’s also important to say, “yes” to kids when dealing with standard day-to-day requests. It’s likely they’ll require discussion and negotiation, but it’s important to encourage participation in the decision-making process in order for them to learn the techniques that will help them manage a “no”.


It regulates emotions and behavior.

Let’s face it: kids have less control over their emotions and rational thought than (most) adults. While some kids can handle being told “no”, others may resort to begging, throwing a tantrum or being belligerent. Smolkin suggests that before you issue a punishment for this type of behavior, begin by validating how the child feels — no matter how unreasonable it may seem. “Validation and empathy typically can de-escalate a charged emotion. After showing empathy, the parent needs to maintain neutrality, meaning they have to stick to the limit they’ve set, then disengage from the conversation,” she says. If the child cannot move forward or his behavior escalates, it may be time for a time-out or a consequence. In this instance, a calm parent can convey to their child that they have the ability to handle the situation.


It decreases future anxiety.

Growing up in today’s society allows children abundant opportunities and access to just about everything. But, while this is a time for experience and growth, it’s also an opportunity for increased anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed. With consistent parenting and setting clear and fair limits that are upheld, kids will come to learn that although “no” is a disappointment, it’s not a catastrophe. In the future when presented with a familiar “no” situation, children are less anxious and better able to regulate their emotions and behavior, says Smolkin, which can lead to becoming easy-going and resilient children.