This is a question that is troubling all parents today. Whether one is in low income strata, middle class, higher middle class or for that matter the ‘rich’ category, there comes a time when you have to use the ‘N’ word with children. Last evening, a colleague shared his being overwhelmed by the burden of parenting. The chief reason for the stress was how to get the child to accept that ‘no’ is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Common grouse that I hear from parents is that today’s children cannot take no for an answer. Whether the no is for junk food, an expensive toy or a smartphone, saying no is not an option, according to them. Let me just clarify that saying no was always a problem, only the frequency and cost of demands of children has gone up rapidly in recent years. I remember a brash child breaking a few things in the house because his dad said no to buying a badminton racket and this was thirty years back.
Another school of thought, which is very much in vogue among the middle class, is that saying no affects the self-esteem of the children. I have also heard from many parents that the use of red ink in correcting the exam papers affects the self-esteem of children and it should be stopped immediately. If you go by this logic, somewhere we parents are responsible for making it hard for our children to accept no as an answer. This is specially true for cases where money is not a problem and the child knows that you are declining the ‘request’ due to some arbitrary principle of yours.
Recently, we said no to the renewed request for a smartphone from our 11year old daughter. Her friends have been granted iphones and galaxy’s for last couple of years. These kids have their own facebook profiles and whatsapp groups, post pics on Instagram, videos on musically and so on. Whether, they are the right age for this is their parents call but we decided to postpone for some more time. But it has taken so much more talking and sharing the feelings of the child to keep her in good spirits.
By saying yes to everything just because once can afford it or it is fashionable or it is the in-thing, we are making our children weak and ill-prepared to face actual life. Recently, there has been a spate of videos and posts on social media on this topic. The principal of our kids’ school even stressed the importance of saying no in her annual speech. I see parents like and appreciate the posts and speeches but the required action is forever lacking. The excuse – the child makes the rules.
Now, I am no psychiatrist or anywhere close to an ideal parent. But still I will go ahead and share some suggestions on this subject as it affects me and millions of parents world over. If you have anything to add or want to suggest any modification, do leave a comment of write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Be clear in your mind: It makes sense to outline certain guiding principles to take a call. If you are convinced that junk food is bad or exposure to social media is bad for your child, you need to make no the default answer with the caveat that few exceptions will be permitted on special occasions. And make these actually very few. You will feel the heat initially and depending on the age and temperament of the child, it may seem unmanageable but keep explaining your answer. Don’t make it a one-word No.
- Set ground rules early: The basic stuff where you have decided to say no, should be followed as early as possible in the child’s life. If your son or daughter is already in 9-10 year age-group, it is too late for a drastic change. You need to act slowly and be more explaining in your approach. The child should be used to accepting No for certain things from as early as the age of 2-3 years.
- Some pain is inevitable: Early in my parenting career, I observed that my child was equally upset when I took away the Ipad after 30 minutes of exposure or after 90 minutes of exposure. So whether you say no after 20mins, 30mins….or 90mins of watching TV, the amount of displeasure was very similar. So, it makes sense to devise a reasonable limit and stick to it consistently. Don’t think you will make the child extra happy by giving one extra hour of TV. Such acts of generosity must be reserved for very special instances.
- Implement change slowly: If you allowed the kid to watch TV from close distance or for long hours during early years, it will be difficult to change later but it can still be done with patience and perseverance. Work on changing habits gradually. For example, if your child is used to ordering Pizza every Saturday, try doing it alternate Saturdays for a couple of months and then once a month.
- Be Consistent: You may think it is difficult to explain but children are super-intelligent and if you are consistent in your approach, they will accept it. The problem happens when we make yes and no answers inconsistent, lack the patience to explain and give-up after a few tantrums of the child.
- Take your time: Even before you react with an instantaneous yes or no and regret later, take a pause and think whenever your child has a demand. Take your time to think, consult and ruminate before giving out your verdict. For smaller stuff, your guiding principals can help you decide fast but for more unusual or big impact items like a smartphone, you are entitled to think for a month.
- Both parents need to be on the same page (of the same book): Related to the last item, you and your spouse need to decide all these matters together. I see people who are ultra busy in their own right – either both parents are working or one shouldering the home responsibilities and the other being a corporate honcho. Whatever be your situation, keep the communication level between both of you very strong. If not face to face, talk on phone but do consult each other before giving in to any demand from the child. Children are master salespersons, right from the time they are born. They know how to get what they want, one way or the other. Its good if this ability is used for better things but it may be used for gaming the parental systems as well.
- Avoid guilt: Take the example of smartphone request by our daughter. Both of us parents are prone to certain amount of guilt when we learn that the child sometimes suffers isolation for not being on Instagram or the whatsapp groups. We also say no to frequent sleepover requests. Reasons are many and may not be felt by other parents. But as long as we are convinced about our reasons, we will stick to the decision and manage our guilt.
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.