No. It's not just a one-word answer, it's a parenting strategy. By saying No when you need to, you help your children develop skills such as self-reliance, self-discipline, respect, integrity, the ability to delay gratification, and a host of other crucial character traits they need to be successful. Although the importance of using No should be obvious, many parents have a hard time saying it -- even when they know they should -- when other parents and the culture around them are being permissive.
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January 09, 2007
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Excerpt from No by David Walsh
Not too long ago, I was standing in line in a Target store behind a man and his young son, whose age I would guess at about three. Everything was fine until the boy looked to the left and found himself staring at a row of candy bars.
"Daddy, can I have one?" he asked as he grabbed and held one up for his father to see.
"No, not now. We're going to have dinner as soon as we get home," the father replied. A look of concern flitted across the dad's face, and I soon discovered why.
At hearing No, the three-year-old began a seemingly well-rehearsed routine. The young boy pleaded and whined. The father hung tough for a few minutes, but his resolve crumbled when the young extortionist brought out the heavy artillery: a full-throated wail. "I want one," he screamed loud enough that everyone within fifty feet could hear.
The father held out for one more second and then caved in. "Oh, all right. You can choose one. Now stop screaming."
The boy defiantly picked out two candy bars and looked up to check out the response. The dad reminded his son that he had said one, and the wailing resumed. "Okay, okay, but no more," the father said in a loud whisper. Realizing he was on a roll, the kid grabbed a third candy bar. When the father reached down to take it away, the boy let out an ear-splitting shriek and started a Milky Way tug-of-war. The battle ended quickly, but the three-year-old was the clear victor: He left with three candy bars and his father left muttering and beaten. This boy not only won the candy bar skirmish, he learned an enduring lesson: No does not mean no. No signals that it's time to escalate.
* * *
Every parent is familiar with these battles. We console ourselves by thinking, It's only a candy bar, or, It's not worth having a meltdown. Unfortunately, the stakes get a lot higher as the years go by. I recently had a conversation with parents who gave their sixteen-year-old daughter permission to go on an unchaperoned trip to Mexico over spring break with a group of friends. They talked with me after attending one of my seminars on the teenage brain, which are based on my last book, Why Do They Act That Way?
The mother spoke first. "We're really worried about what might happen on this spring break trip after listening to you tonight. Do you think we made a mistake?"