There is an article floating around about a “Vitamin N Deficiency” in children. Vitamin N is the word “No.” Millions of parents applaud in agreement. Kids today! Such brats. No one ever tells them “No”!
My question to this “Say No!” crowd: Why? Why is it necessary for a child to hear “No” for its own sake, for no other reason than hearing “No” is good, that it’s a “vitamin” that they need for their health? What character trait are you instilling?
Let’s look at some examples of when this “Say No!” (authoritarian) crowd says you absolutely have to say “No!”
Let’s say you are at a store and a child wants a toy. Ok, parents. Time to dig your heels in, put on your tough face, and tell that kid, “NO!” through their hysterical sobs. You did it, mom or dad. You saved this kid from turning into a spoiled brat. A hard life lesson about money was just given.
Or was it? Here is an alternative solution:
Your child has a small allowance, given weekly. When the child wants the toy, you say to them, “If you wish, you can use your own money to buy it.” The child can figure out how much money he has, if he can buy the toy, and compare it to many other things that he can do with his money.
Which of these solutions is more true to what life will be like when that child is an adult? Which actually practices the skill of budgeting? Which is more likely to result in a calm shopping experience? Me and my permissive parenting, not equipping children for life, outright spoiling my children …
Here is another example. A child keeps playing with the blinds. You are worried that they pulls on the cords incorrectly and they might ruin them.
There are many ways you might handle this as a parent. You might show them the proper way to open the blinds. You might consistently pull them away from the blinds when they go to play with them. You might put the cord up. You might construct an effective 3-part, “I” statement (what behavior makes you feel and why.) There are plenty of loving ways that you can say “No” to the child. There are lots of tools to use for this situation and many others, for any age child. The market is saturated with books on the topic.
Positive parenting still deals with the issue of children doing what you don’t want them to do. But there are effective tools to set loving limits. For young children, I think of it like putting a child in a square room with very soft walls that, when they bump into, gently push them back to the center of the room. For older children, much more sophisticated skills of negotiation are put to use.
I gave these examples to show how alternative solutions exist other than growling “NO!” at a kid, engaging in a power struggle, or doling out a punishment. You can give a loving “No.” Even better, you may work to figure out a deal that is mutually agreeable to all.
What I really want to touch upon though is WHY you might give a loving “No” to a child. It’s because you personally want them to stop doing something. It’s not for the child’s sake. There is no character trait that is instilled in the child. It is because you personally have had your limit met for something–and that’s totally valid. But my point is that confronting a child to stop doing something is so you can live together harmoniously as a family. (As far as disciplining the child, this comes separately through teaching, coaching, and practicing life skills.)
People complain about permissive parents, but, the fact is, everyone has different limits. I had a neighbor confront my son about using a hose on our driveway once. (I had gone into the house to get a glass of water.) When I came out, I had to explain that I am fine with it. A grandmother complained once that her grand daughter let her son play with toys outside until too way at night. This issue is between the mother and her kid. If she doesn’t mind, then so be it.
Sometimes parents do get too permissive, with the definition of permissive being that you personally don’t like something, but you let the child do it anyway. These might be some indicators that you need to find some better ways of setting limits or confronting your children:
- You are unwilling to even walk into the laundry room, because your kids will beg you to let them put soap in the washing machine.
- You wear a dress, because your young son insists on it, when you would rather wear pants.
- You cook dinner in the dark because your child likes to make a “movie theatre.”
But I’m not here to tell you how to parent or that you are failing, like the super condescending “Vitamin N deficiency” article. I am just saying: For your own sake, there may be some tools to deal with these situations. These things are between you and your children.
There are no skills learned or character traits developed from authoritarianism. Under authoritarianism, the child’s entire life needs are given by their parents, and whether or not they can have something comes down to the decision of the parent. What kind of life does this prepare them for? Unless they will grow up to live in a centrally planned economy–where the government gives you all of life needs and routinely tells citizens, “No!”–it is of no value.
Authoritarianism gives no life skills. I know someone in the “Say No!” crowd, who no doubt said no to kids in the toy store. Her finances are in shambles. When another person says they want something, she might tell them, “A cheese grater!? What do you need a cheese grater for!? Just use a knife!” Welcome to “Saying No.”
I actual think this mindset sets up a child for poverty. Being told it is a virtue to go without just for its own sake is only a proper mindset when living through some form of depression. You also aren’t teaching the child to look for solutions, to keep improving life, that figuring out how to say “Yes” is the ideal. Doctors, engineers, scientists, and so on, live in the latter “Say Yes” crowd. When they see a problem, they say, “Let’s figure out a solution.”
Giving the child some freedom and responsibility will actually prepare them for life. When they become adults, they can decide for themselves if the time saving from buying a cheese grater for a few dollars is worth it to them. Even better, they won’t become the bossy pants telling others what they can and cannot buy. They may even develop some interpersonal skills to deal with others.
And that brings up the ultimate point: Children mimic what you do, not what you tell them to do. So by telling them, “No,” you aren’t teaching them anything, not even about delaying gratification. You are teaching them how to say “No” to others. Let me give a very blunt example. Imagine a young boy crying about something. His mother tells him, “You are such a whiny brat! You should be grateful for what you already have! NO!” Now imagine this young boy grown up as an adult who tells his crying wife, “You are such a whiny bitch! What you want is unimportant! NO!” This is what the cult of “No” parenting raises.
This is why I accuse authoritarians of being deficient in EQ, an abbreviation to mean “Emotional Intelligence.” While a child is in hysterical sobs, they yell at a child to stop crying and just accept the decision. They don’t know how to do any emotion coaching to see a child through these inevitable “negative” emotions. The child learns to stuff them. The result is emotional repression.
Children who grew up with authoritarian parents often defend their upbringing by saying they “Turned out fine.” They usually reference very practical life skills that they are good at, like holding a job, paying their bills, or, I don’t know, being punctual. Every time I see someone say “I got spanked and I turned out fine,” I want to ask so bad: And what are your relationships like? How are you at managing your own emotions? How do you feel, are you happy? Can you handle guilt and fear reasonably? Do you have good confrontational skills to bring up issues with others without ruining relationships? It is these type of things that authoritarianism destroys. And authoritarianism, in its many forms, always ends up raising bossy pants.
Children do not need doses of “Vitamin N.” Parents however could use some information about Vitamin EQ. There are many books on the market for it. Here are but a few:
- Between Parent and Child by Dr. Ginnot
- Liberated Parents, Liberated Children
- The Awakened Family
- Parent Effectiveness Training by Dr. Thomas Gordon
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