Saying "No" to Children

To any reader who has come directly here, please read the page on saying yes too! After years of finding agreeable solutions to my children's problems and helping them do things they want to do, advice from other parents to "just say no" sounds harsh to me now. I grew up with it, and I hear references to it, and there are mean jokes about parents preventing kids from doing things. But in my life and most of my friends' lives, parents are facilitators and providers, not the blockading enemy.

What if each parent were issued a ration book of "NO" tickets when a child was born, and could only say "NO" two hundred times? Two hundred times in eighteen years... that's a lot of "no."

But I've seen parents say "no" five times in five minutes, to children in public places who just want to walk, or to be carried, or to touch something, or to see better, or to have a drink of water, or to have mom hold her hand, or to have one of those candy bars she's face to face with, or to stay a little longer, or to leave a little sooner, to ride in the cart or not ride in the cart. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

Sometimes someone comes to one of the unschooling discussions, not knowing there are other ways, and offers the traditional "You're the boss, just say no" advice. I'm glad it has come to sound harsh and wrong. It shows me how far I've come.

[When I posted some of what's above to Just Add Light and Stir, Rachel Springett commented:
I remember when I first read this and then becoming conscious throughout my days of how many nos I said. Well it was a whole heap and I thought of myself as a more respectfully person towards children than most! It really made me consciously aware of the power we hold over children in all areas of their lives.

From that moment on my life with my children got better. I still occasionally have a knee jerk no that arises but it is a work in progress and I now know that I have a choice in how I react. So thank you Sandra it really was a turning point for me.

If a person is answering most questions with "no," that is putting trouble in the bank to collect interest.

The red words are those of someone who was telling a mother it was fine for her to forbid her child to go to school, even though the daughter felt school would be better for her than home. The indented responses are Joyce Fetteroll's responses on the AlwaysLearning list, July 29, 2006.
While it's true that a parent can error on the side of 'overprotecting', it is also true that there are some things that a parent can say no to and express her reasons for this and have a relationship with her child that allows for the conversation to continue while the mother still holds to her position.
Yes, it can happen but it doesn't happen just because a parent is certain she's right. It happens because the mother had already built up a huge bank of trust with the child. The child *knows* that the mom will help them get anything they're trying to get. When there's a huge bank of trust then we can play a "Trust me" card. But there's only so many we can play.

So when you say "a parent can" you're making a huge assumption about the relationship between the parent and child. Building up trust -- at least in this society where conventional parenting is so disrespectful of children -- doesn't just happen. It takes thoughtful parenting. And it's not useful to assume that relationship of deep trust is there. We need to bring that trust out front and center and make sure parents are aware that return trust from kids if we call a shot doesn't just happen because we've allowed them learn without curriculum.

The mother could haul out statistics as the law does to justify it's position on an issue.
If the child knows the mother is trying to help her go to school, then the statistics will be seen as information. If the child knows the mother is trying to convince her not to go, the statistics will be seen as a barrier the mother is trying to erect between the daughter and school. Statistics will be be a drone in her ears that she'll try to tune out.
—Joyce Fetteroll

Joyce again, to a mom who insisted that it was their open floor plan that made her say no to TV so she didn't have to hear "stupid" TV shows while she cooked:

if the principle is to find a way for everyone's needs to be met then it makes no difference how the house is set up. The goal will be to find a way to make it work so that one person's needs (freedom from the noise of the TV) aren't coming at the expense of other people's needs (the desire to watch TV).

There are wireless headphones. TVs can be put in other rooms. Mom can get an iPod. It's just the tip of an iceberg of suggestions. It's easy to say no to those and no to thinking outside the situation you have because you're the one in power and what you have suits you. It's almost always the way of those in power. People in power don't want to put effort into making themselves inconvenienced to make life more pleasant for others. Why should they?

(Answer: because the more others know that we make their needs a priority, the more we become someone that others want to do things for. And because it feels nice! 🙂

Too often parents who don't want to change were children who grew up with choices handed out when it was convenient for adults to do so. It was implied that it was the adults' turn to have their way and when the child became an adult it would be their turn. So, by golly, that child who has become an adult is going to have what she wants in the way she wants it BECAUSE IT'S HER TURN!

And that legacy gets passed on.

That's not discussing your particular situation. I don't know who you are or what your childhood was like. But the principles are true nonetheless: Kids who grow up needy become adults who are needy who have the power to make others meet their needs.

Sandra note: They have the power to try, but it rarely works.

Sandra, responding to someone asking about gifts, and delayed gratification:

When we had two little boys, who were about 2 and 5, [my mother-in-law] told me once when she thought I was being too nice to them, "You need to frustrate them."

NO, I did NOT need to frustrate them. There are many natural frustrations in life. Mean grandmothers are among them. But to *create* frustration to practice is as cruel as breaking a child's finger so that he will be better prepared in case he ever breaks an arm or a leg.

My kids are great at delayed gratification, all of them. They have saved money, earned money, bought small things, and large things, waited for friends to visit, waited for holidays and parties, and because they're busy and secure people, they could always find something to do. But they were also generally sure that as soon as it WAS possible, they would do it, or have it. That's because they had lived their lives with parents who were their partners and who helped them, rather than thwarted or frustrated them.

Some kids get to 18 and they're sick and tired of waiting, and they don't want to wait anymore for ANYthing. Some turn to drugs, drinking, partying, charge cards, driving too fast... When parents have a choice of saying yes or no, and they choose "no" because they think it's good for their child, they are putting that pressure and tension in the bank to gain interest.

Say yes when you can, especially if it's about something that will help your child learn. If you can't decide, think "Will he be happy and learn? Will this help with unschooling?"

Sandra Dodd
Always Learning, 1/8/13

Brie Jontry, about acceptance of the unexpected:

When I was just starting to read about unschooling, but not at all sure it wasn't just crazy talk, I walked into the kitchen after hearing a noise and found my 3 yr old daughter with an empty cereal box on her head. The cereal, which seconds before had been in the box, was all over the floor.

Thankfully, I had just read something by Pam Sorooshian on Sandra's site about her visit to New Mexico. Sandra and a young Holly picked her up at the airport and then they all went on a grand tour of Albuquerque's grocery stores in quest of a plum, because Holly wanted one.


Instead of freaking out, I took a deep breath and asked my dd what she was up to.

"I'm looking for echos," she said, from under the box.

I called the dog, who helped me clean up the cereal, and my daughter and I went through the house, and then the yard, looking for echos. It is one of my favorite memories from that year.

Think what would have happened next time she felt curious, if I'd have yelled about the mess, without even asking first what was going on. Think how Holly Dodd's life could have played out so differently if her mom hadn't honored her desire for a plum.

Each of those little gifts of generosity piled on top of other little gifts of generosity creates a place where opposition isn't necessary.

Not that reverse of each of these instances ALONE are enough to create a place of opposition, but I'm guessing that "Not right nows" or "In a minute," or "what a mess!" especially in the lives of four year olds, are more than enough, when heard daily, to create that tension, that feeling of powerlessness that comes out as opposition and defiance.

When my daughter was younger, maybe 2-ish, I remember realizing that when I had a list of things to do after she went to sleep, it would take her A LOT longer to fall asleep. It was as if she opposed sleep because she could feel me pushing against her, making her go there.

I know there are some here saying that their children's lives *are* filled with yeses, and still they push against their parents, but I really don't see how you can push when there isn't resistance, it becomes an embrace then, no?

Always Learning, 1/4/11

Alex Polikowsky wrote:

Last night we all went to a BBQ at another dairy farm where they are holding a cow sale today.

There where lots of people there for it and looking at the cows pre-sale. It was already dark as many dairy farmers can only make it after they do their afternoon/evening chores.

My 7 year old son Naruto started playing with some other 6 boys that were there age from around 7 til 12 y.o..He said he was having lots of fun.

So they are playing tag in a big barn that was mostly empty and safe. I walked there and I explained to him that the farm had a huge manure pit ( like a huge open place where all the liquid manure is stored- extremely dangerous), lots of huge trucks and tractors coming in and out and that some people could have been drinking too much and asked him if he could stay in that huge barn that was safe. Two of the other kids said: " what we cannot go out of the barn?"

And instantly walked out just to prove the point that he could. So I made a joke about it and talked to my son in Portuguese and he was OK with playing in the barn and being safe.

Do you think that kid got a lot of "nos"?

A little later on my son had enough of the kids when they started playing all over the farm and he did not feel totally safe and he hung out with me for the rest of the time he was there. It was pretty chaotic there so not really a safe place for kids wandering in a very dark night (overcast so no moon). My son trusted me and he knew it was not a "no" but a real concern.

Alex Polikowsky