Disciplining Children: If You’re Constantly Saying No, Is Anyone Ever Happy?

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disciplining childrenWhen your kid turns two you pretty much rue the day you ever taught him the word “no.” But parents: it gets worse. Sure all that “No! NO! NOOOOOO!” coming from a tiny, surprisingly resilient being is infuriating. But what really gets me is when I hear myself using the word equally as vehemently and even more regularly.

This is what a typical morning in our household sounds like:

Child 1: “Mommy, can we watch TV?”

Me: “No. No TV in the morning.”

Child 2: “Mommy, can I have a sip of your coffee?”

Me: “No, you can’t. It’s not nice for little girls.”

Child 1: “Can I wear my pajamas to school?”

Me: “No. And anyway, your pajamas smell like pee. Get dressed.”

Child 2: “Can I put on nail polish?”

Me: “No!”

No to sandals in winter. No to tank tops and sundresses. No to coloring tattoos on your forearm. No to popsicles before lunch. No to pulling down all the window shades. No to putting on lipstick. No, no, no, no, no!

It’s even worse when I hear other parents losing control of their “no” reflex – particularly if they’re saying “no” to the one thing I would’ve said “yes” to. It’s negative, it’s overbearing and it makes me nervous. I never wanted to be a no-body – I swear.

So this year I’ve tried to temper my use of the dreaded word. I’ve found that saying “not now” or “later” to an ill-timed or even insane request keeps us all feeling a little more positive and a little less hard done by. If “no” was my invisible electric fence, the lack of it is like an acre of garden in which to run.

Eliminating the “no” eradicates the power struggle that defines so many family relationships. If there is no distinct boundary set, there remains nothing to rebel against. Sure, it may give kids a shred of hope where there may not be a chance in hell, but small kids have notoriously short memories. Also, stalling has always worked for me.

The proliferation of “not now” in our household has made the odd “no” all that more meaningful (it helps if you say it loudly). It has the same effect with my kids today as a four-letter word might have with an adult. In fact, I like that analogy. Let’s ascribe four-letter power to this measly two-letter word. Use it, and you’ll have to put a nickel in the jar.

That’ll make ’em think twice.