Teaching our children to say ‘NO’
For many of you the title of today’s article may come as a surprise and most of you may not even agree with me. You may wonder, in today’s world where we are trying to teach our children obedience and respecting elders, why are we talking about teaching them to say ‘NO’.
I would like to share an incident where me and my friend had been to a restaurant. They had a mix up with reservation and wanted to put us in the basement, which was pretty depressing. I was about to say ok, but my friend answered in a firm voice, “Definitely not”. Thus, they prepared a nice table for us outside and a we had a wonderful meal in the sun. I admired my friend’s ability to stand up for herself and say no. Most of us in that situation would not like to create a ruckus and would love to show that we are empathetic and understanding and hence adjust or compromise.
There is nothing wrong in being empathetic or giving up for others but not always. We must acknowledge our needs and should hold the courage to stand for ourselves. We are all very familiar with these people who have a difficulty in setting boundaries. They are the ones who get the most work in the office because they can’t say “NO”. They are the friends who will do anything and everything for their friends but when it comes to their needs, no one exists. They are the people who will consistently sacrifice their needs to please others. Sometimes we are these people. As a parent, I often think of how can I encourage my daughter to be true to herself and her needs and stand up for herself. Here are a few thoughts:
Respond to the child’s needs: There is nothing that can teach our children to respect their own needs better than our responsiveness to them. By responding, we are sending the message: ‘Your needs are important and deserve to be met’. They will hold that belief for the rest of their life.
Set the example by standing up for yourself: People usually avoid saying ‘no’ from fear of conflict or to please others. They may achieve pleasing others but they loose the most important thing in the process, themselves. A lot of my loved ones are people-pleasers. I love them for it, but it stresses me out. When I ask them for a favor I cannot be sure if it’s honestly ok. They would say yes even if it wasn’t.
Girls need extra help: In our culture, girls are (still) typically rewarded for practicing good manners and taking care of others, whereas boys get high-fives for being brave or taking a risk. Although it is possible for boys to gain overly pleasing behaviors, it is usually girls who feel pressure to be excessively polite, and they often have a harder time communicating their preferences. Middle-school-aged girls in particular start to shy away from expressing their authentic preferences to fit in. Girls often need help recognizing that self-assertion is not rude or aggressive, and they also often need explicit instruction on how to speak up for themselves, how to claim their strengths and how to accept or deny a compliment.
Teach Assertive refusal: Explain the difference between an assertive refusal and an aggressive refusal to help your child refuse successfully. An assertive refusal would mean standing straight, keeping eye contact, speaking firmly and politely, and choosing active and strong words that don’t give a “wimpy” impression, such as "I won’t” instead of “I can’t,” for example. An aggressive answer might involve reacting with anger, threatening others or criticizing others -- all of these actions could cause more problems for your child.
To summarize, we need to put a lot more effort into raising kids who are themselves and say ‘no’ rather than kids who ‘behave’. We need to work with ourselves to set more personal boundaries so that we are happier and also model a positive example to our kids and others.
(The author is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Learning Arena, an e-learning company)