Updated: Jul 7, 2022
OK Mommas, we all have to tell our kids no, sometimes multiple times in 5 minutes.
But I have a secret for you.
When you tell your kids no, tell them why you are saying no. This might seem excruciating at first, especially if you have an active toddler like mine. I find myself telling her about 50 times a day to stop jumping off of something, stop running on the couch, you get the picture.
Every time I tell her no, I tell her why. Follow me on this for a second.
When she was about 2 years old, we were playing in the front yard, and she ran half way down the street before I could chase her down. I just about had a heart attack. When I caught up to her, I told her: "You can't run in the street! You could get hit by a car!" Now at 4, she has internalized that message. I take her for walks and she tells me as we approach the corner that we need to stop and look both ways.
Explaining your reasons for saying "no" helps kids learn valuable life lessons, instead of just learning that mom is mean. This can help kids in the long run, because they understand that you are saying no out of love.
Your Parenting Style.
Explaining your reasoning to your kids is part of a parenting style called "Authoritative Parenting" (Also referred to more recently as Attachment Parenting) in which parents are both firm with boundaries, and responsive to a child's needs. (For more info on the other parenting styles, you can check out this article, Types of Parenting Styles & their Effects on Children)
There are four main parenting styles:
I like to think of Authoritative Parenting as a balanced approach to parenting. You make and enforce rules with your kids, but you always put the relationship first. If something isn't working, you talk it through. If kids question a rule, you explain the reason for it. You aren't a dictator, but you aren't a best friend either. You are somewhere in the middle.
Some of the main focuses in Authoritative Parenting, according to iBestBabySwing are that these parents:
"Set some disciplinary rules for kids while considering their opinions and feelings as well. Also, explain the reasons behind those rules.
Very caring and protective.
They always expect higher and define clear goals for their children and expect them to put effort into it to achieve such goals.
They put their time and energy into eliminating behavioral problems before they start.
Such parents make a lot of effort in reinforcing good behavior among their children. They praise their children and even reward them for their good behavior.
They frequently communicate with their children on their level of understanding to understand their feelings, emotions, and thoughts."
Being an authoritative parent was an important choice for me because I took some child psychology classes in college, and according to the research, children raised with authoritative parenting have the best outcomes later in life.
As far as saying no goes, the other good part about explaining your reasoning to kids when you say no is that it helps them learn to understand adult reasoning, and eventually learn to apply the same type of reasoning skills themselves. When they get older, you will need to tell them no much less frequently.
Saying No Keeps Kids Safe.
Most of the time when I tell my kids no, it is because they are doing something dangerous. When you tell them that every time, eventually they realize that you are right.
My little wild child is forever jumping off of the tallest thing she can find. Probably about 100x a day I tell her, "If you keep doing [the thing] you are going to hurt yourself."
After she hurts herself enough times doing the thing I told her not to, she learns to trust me about danger.
Eventually, kids learn to spot the danger themselves, or at least mitigate it. Then, you have to tell them NO less often.
When kids start to internalize like this with safety issues, it also helps them learn to trust you in the wider world. You told them something was a bad idea, they tried it, and saw that YES in fact it WAS a bad idea. Knowing that mom and dad are right about things, being able to trust us, helps strengthen our bond with our kids too. It also sets the stage for other difficult conversations you will inevitably have later in life.
I would much rather say no now about the red scrunchie, the 12th piece of candy, or the last episode of Jillian and Addie NOW and get my daughter to listen to me, than have to say it later about bad friends, drugs, or something else when she is a teen and have her disregard it.
Remember, "NO." is a complete sentence. It is perfectly valid to say no if you are too tired or your child's request crosses your boundaries. Or if it is just way too late at night to start a craft project or another movie.
No matter what you have said no about, hold firm. Even if it wasn't all that important in the first place. Holding firm is important because, if you say no, then relent when your kiddo throws a fit, you are creating what is called an "Intermittent Reinforcement Schedule," which encourages them to throw fits again and again trying to get their way.
What is Intermittent reinforcement? And why is it bad?
Well let's break up the two parts. Reinforcement is a reward for a behavior. This can have many forms. For example, if you buy little Suzy an ice cream for getting straight A's that is a reinforcement. Similarly, if you let little Tommy stay up and watch one more TV program after he has a fit, that is also a reinforcement.
As parents, we reinforce any behavior by our kids that gets them what they want. Most of the time, this is a good thing. It starts to get bad when kids learn to get what they want through yelling, being mean, violent or manipulative. When they do something negative to get what they want, we absolutely cannot give in, or we reinforce the negative behavior.
Now, Intermittent Reinforcement. Intermittent means that the child only gets the desired response some of the time. The most classic example of this is slot machines. You keep putting money in there, and sometimes you win.
This would be the same as if little Suzy only got an ice cream sometimes, or little Tommy only gets his way sometimes. It may seem positive when little Suzy keeps trying her best hoping to get an ice cream sometimes. But it really leads to trouble when little Tommy keeps throwing fits hoping to get his way.
According to Simply Psychology, intermittent reinforcement schedules will keep a behavior going for a much longer amount of time. Think back to the person at the slot machine. They know they might win, so they keep pouring away all their money. That is the same thing you are doing when you budge after telling your kids NO. You are setting them up for failure.
We all want our kids to succeed, so it is important to set boundaries for what behavior is ok or not ok in your house and stick to them. It also really helps when both parents are on the same page. Otherwise, kids will go to the parent they think is more likely to say yes about something, which can have its pitfalls too!
Check out this video of me with my oldest daughter, Atlantis, for some examples of how to explain saying no to your kids:
Let me know in the comments if these strategies work for you, and any other helpful tips that you have on telling kids no. If you like this article, feel free to share on socials. And as always, if there are any questions you have, or additional topics that you want me to cover in a future article, let me know in the comments!
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