Inside: Why you should get over your discomforts and learn to tell your kids no.
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Our 9 year old has decided that he wants–no, needs to own a fidget. Do you know about fidgets? They’re the latest craze with kids. It’s a pretty cool idea, actually. It’s a small toy that kids can spin and… well, basically fidget with to keep their hands occupied. Perfect for occupying busy boys. (Here’s an example.)
My Mom had bought small fidgets for my older two boys, and she offered to get one for him, too. But he wanted a slightly different model for himself. Trouble is, he had spent all of his money on a giant Lego set months ago and hadn’t refilled his piggy bank since then.
Part of me wanted to plop down the money for the toy and let him have it. After all, it’s only a few dollars. Even in our #yearofno it wouldn’t be much to spend. And who can turn down a cute face asking for such a small thing?
Instead, I began to think about this moment on a larger scale. Just one little moment like this seems insignificant. Was there really a lesson to be learned here?
Why You Should Say No More Often
Since we began our #yearofno in order to get out of debt, I’ve heard a lot of questions. “How’s it work?” “What are you doing differently?”
But the question I’m asked the most is “How did you get your kids on board?”
I’ve avoided answering it completely, or I’ll answer in a way that isn’t too blunt. But to be perfectly honest, that question baffles me every time.
How do I get my kids on board? I say no. I don’t buy the thing they ask for. I don’t take them the place they want to go. I mean, who’s in charge here?
There’s no way I’m going to let them eat fast food every time they ask for it. I’m not buying a new app each week. And I’m not letting choices made by people too young to make hard decisions derail my financial future.
Is that child abuse these days? I’ve had people suggest this to me! But I’ll stand my ground. And I’ll tell you why you should stand your ground, too.
Why “No” Is Hard
Why do parents have such a hard time saying no to their children? Is it because they think the best way to show love is to give a child everything they ask for? Or because they can’t stand the inevitable whining that comes with saying no?
Is it because they feel peer pressure to keep up with what the other kids at school are wearing, seeing, doing, owning? Or because they want to give their kids better than what they had?
I’m no robot. I’ve felt the pressure of every one of those scenarios. But I’ve found that caving into a yes for any of those reasons always leads to regret.
Why You Must Say No Anyway
A few reasons come to mind…
How many adults struggle with self control? All of us do from time to time. (Some of us barely put up any fight at all!) If adults have trouble putting off what you want now so you can have what you want the most, how can we expect our kids to understand the concept?
If you have nothing in savings, but your kid owns the latest tablet or phone, you need to realign your priorities. If you have no retirement plan, but you took your kids to Disney World, ditto.
With no savings, you’re in for a tough future. Don’t expect your kids to bail you out. They’ll be busy working hard to give their kids even more than you gave them. (Or, let’s be honest, still sleeping on your couch because you never expected them to get a job.)
Work Yourself Out of a Job
“Parenting done right means working yourself out of a job.”
When I first read that quote, I stiffened a little. No mother on Earth wants to become totally unnecessary. (I mean, we’d adore using the bathroom in privacy every now and then… but let’s not get too extreme.)
But the more I pondered on it, the more I realized its truth. I still need my own Mom and always will. But she gave me the lessons I needed to be able to survive on my own.
You teach your children to walk, feed themselves, use the bathroom, and get dressed. But that’s just the beginning.
Teach them to…
- Solve their own problems whenever possible. (No, I can’t do that for you. What happens when you try it?)
- Wait. (No, I won’t buy that gadget. How could you earn the money yourself?)
- Be patient. (No, you can’t play with toys during church.)
- Stand up to peer pressure. (No, I won’t buy you a phone plan when you’re in elementary school. I’m sorry your friends all have phones, but that’s not how our family does things.)
How to Start Saying No
I read a parenting book called The Well-Behaved Child. Many would call it old fashioned, but I think some important lessons have been lost in between generations. And one of his points gave me an “aha” moment.
Consider basketball. If your child grabs at another player, does the ref pull them aside and ask if they meant to do that?
No. He points to them, reads their number, and gives them a foul. No second chances. No discussion on what the child feels about what just happened.
And that’s life in a nutshell!
If you tell your child no, he or she will most likely whine. I’ve been telling my kids no for ages, and I can assure you that this does not stop happening!
But it does get better.
If you’re the type to give in to whining, you’ve made some serious work for yourself. Your kid knows just how to play you. Let them sit in a chair somewhere until they are done. You’ll have to prove to them over and over again that you’ve quit the habit of giving in to whining before they take you seriously.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment to tell your kids no. Put in daily practice time. Does that sound like a negative thing? Then reframe the way you talk about it.
My kids want to eat snacks and play with toys during church. My answer is, of course, no. I constantly remind them, “Out of an entire week, I ask you to sit still and be quiet for just one hour. That’s not asking too much.” When they fight with each other, I take them out for a reminder and a consequence (a chore they can do the moment we get home, for instance).
On the advice of parents whose kids are older than mine, I’ve decided that my young kids don’t need access to social media until high school. That’s hard for all of us. I want them to be able to interact with their friends. But it’s not worth the problems that come with giving social media to kids who aren’t old enough to understand the responsibilities that come with such a powerful tool. Both my children and we parents have to practice this “no” on a regular basis in a world that accepts technology so quickly.
But it’s given us a lot of real world chances to talk about technology as we ease our kids into new situations. Why is this Youtube video ok, but that one isn’t? What happened to this child in the news when he posted something to Instagram?
Now, my kids aren’t going to say, “Yeah, Mom. I see your point about social media. You’re so smart!” But it will plant a tiny seed in their minds to ponder on as they go through life.
Parenting is hard, 24/7/365 work. There are no breaks. No one is perfect, and we all get lazy sometimes. But every time you skip the consequence you gave your child, you’re showing them that you are unreliable. I know, it’s a punishment. Kids love skipping out on punishments. But they don’t like the feeling that their parents aren’t reliable.
So follow through on punishments when you have to. But make sure you also follow through with promised quality time, too.
If you do just one thing, think out the proper consequence for their behavior (good or bad) and always follow through. No, you can’t get out of it just this one time.
What Are the Best Things In Life?
- Family you can count on.
- True friendships (not superficial groups of peers).
- Good health, money habits, and relationships from learning to say no to every little impulse.
- Knowing how to work hard and problem solve. (Important for everything!)
- Forgiveness. None of us are perfect, and we’re all trying to do our best!
The Fun Part
Do I say no to my children every single time? Of course not! It’s fun to have ice cream before supper or grab tickets for that special event (that’s either once in a lifetime or fits into our budget). But the secret is, those things are fun treats. Done every day, they start to lose their sparkle.
Learn to say no to your children and give them the best instead.
While I silently wrung my hands and reminded myself not to interfere with my boy while he struggled with his desire to buy something he couldn’t afford, he got busy and solved the problem. A few chores later, and he was able to buy that fidget with money he’d earned himself! Give your kids a chance to prove to both of you that they can do it.
Also check out How to Develop Self Control.
How do you feel about telling kids no?