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Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
It's important to be sure we know why we’re saying "no" to our children and what we hope to achieve, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
It’s often said that the hardest things to say are, "I’m sorry" and "I love you".

They are both important things to be able to declare, especially to those closest to us, including our youngsters. Equally important is being able to say to the latter the simple and single word "no".

Unless we’re happy for them to run the household and our life, then it’s a word we need to use - and mean it.

Its use isn’t going to give them some sort of complex or stifle the development of their unique personality. In fact, if they don’t understand "no" they’ll definitely develop a unique personality, usually in a direction that’s decidedly anti-social. Children need limits and predictable and consistent responses if they’re going to be happy and responsible adults.

Limits teach them about the things that are unsafe, aren’t healthy for them, whether it be junk food or too many late nights, and that others have rights and needs, too.

It’s easy to be worn down by the arguing, pleading and tantrums. Give in and they learn that by making a fuss they can get their own way.

Therefore, it’s important to be sure we know why we’re saying "no" and what we hope to achieve.

As our children get older, we need to review our reasons and be prepared to give them, but not necessarily debate them. By mid-adolescence requests for reconsideration of a "no" should be considered and a "no" could well become a "maybe, let me think it over".

There are lots of different ways of saying "no".

Try humour - "I suppose you think I say no because I’m mean. Well it’s true."

Relate it to family policy or values - "that’s not something we do in this family."

Remind them of the rule - "homework first."

Mention any positive angle - "sounds like a good idea but it’s too late tonight." Or "I’d like to say yes but you’ve got a big weekend ahead so off to bed."

Offer an alternative - "I don’t think that’s a good idea, but how about ..."

Give some hope - "We can’t afford that at the moment but next month we could manage to at least ..."

Repeat the instruction. For example, give an end-of-activity warning "five more minutes" - follow any requests for extension with a simple (and repeated) "time’s up".

Remind them they’re competent - "No, you can do it. Would you like me to tie one shoe again to show you?"

Acknowledge the want that’s not a need - "I can see why you want it. It’s very pretty, isn’t it, but you don’t need another T-shirt at the moment."

"All my friends are allowed to" - "I’m sorry you’ve got that problem, but that’s the way it is."



Great suggestions.

For integrity of the child, the right to say "No" applies to children saying so to adults.

My campaign for children to carry small stun guns was not well received.

Sound advice. Unfortunately for us as grandparents, our grandchildren (7 & 5) have been raised as "adults" where they are encouraged by their parents to say "no" to us (and them too, for that matter), and "no means no." Sadly, we miss out on so much fun and enjoyment of them, as the tail's certainly wagging the dog in that household. Adults are certainly treated as inferior, although the kids are model students at school.

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