We can't say yes to everything our child wants. Sometimes we need to say No, for their own good, or for the greater good of the family or community. Even things we don't think are important can seem like the end of the world to a child. So it can be hard for them to weather that frustration and sadness. Often, kids whine, nag, demand or get defiant.
It's tempting for us as parents to get impatient and try to shut those big emotions down. But when you can accept your child's feelings with good grace, without changing your limit, your child learns some important lessons:
- All feelings are allowed, even though not all behavior is.
- Sadness and disappointment can be endured.
- The sun will always come out tomorrow.
- They can't control their circumstances, but they always have a choice about how to respond to make the best of a situation.
That's how they develop resilience; they face disappointment but they have backup -- someone who understands. So they don't draw negative conclusions about themselves ("I always mess up!") or the world ("The world always disappoints me!") even though they don't get what they want.
So why do kids fight so hard against our limits? Because those big feelings of disappointment are hard to face. They'd rather keep fighting with us than face the music.
That's why, if your No is non-negotiable, it's good to keep it clear and calm, so your child understands they've hit a wall and there's no getting around the limit. That helps your child give up the fight.
Then, accept that your child might have some big feelings about the limit. Empathize and make it safe for her to share her tears and disappointment with you.
But what about when your child still won't take No for an answer? What if he's on the attack? The part of NO that our kids don't understand is often the part where we make them feel bad about themselves and what they want, instead of just saying NO to the desire.
How do you feel when you can't have something? Maybe a nice vacation, or dinner at a fancy restaurant, or even just a few minutes to yourself? Think how much better you feel when your partner or friend responds to your desire like this:
"I see how much you want that.... I wish you could have it... You deserve it.... Wouldn't it be nice?"
But what if instead they say:
"What, are you crazy?! In your dreams! Get over it!"
Or, worse yet, "You're always wanting things! You're so greedy and self-centered! Do you think you're the center of the universe?"
From your perspective, your kid's desire to stay up later, swing from the lights at the doctor's office, or have her birthday party at a fancy place might be just plain nuts. But if you can say YES to the feelings and desire, even while you say NO to the request, your child will feel (and act) a whole lot better.
- "You wish you could stay up later. When you're big, I bet you'll stay up all night, every night, and never go to bed, won't you? Right now it's bedtime, but we can still have fun while we get ready. Do want to hide under the covers and see if I can find you? Then we'll read a story."
- "You're full of energy right now. This isn't a good place for jumping around, but when we get outside, we can play a little in the park across the street before we head home. Want to play this puzzle game with me while we wait for the doctor?"
- "You wish you could have a party at that place, but that's not in our budget this year. I see how disappointed you are, Sweetie. I know you want a fantastic party that all the kids will love. Let's brainstorm about how to have a really great party in our backyard. Should we make a special cake together? Or have banana splits? A Pinata? An obstacle course? A treasure hunt?"
That's a hard No. But your child still feels understood. She may be disappointed, but she knows you're on her side. So instead of getting stuck in anger, she can grieve the disappointment, which lets her move on.
You might even post a little sign on your refrigerator or car dashboard:
Allow feelings, Limit behavior.
That kind of No your child can understand.