Why do we say “yes” when we want to say “no”?

Dear You,

When’s the last time you found yourself reluctantly nodding “yes”, while your thoughts were screaming “NOO!”? I’m assuming if you clicked on this blog post, something like this may have happened recently.

Gosh, it’s so difficult, right?! Sometimes, even with our own family members, saying no feels like a really inappropriate thing to do.

My dilemma

The other day, my niece refused to share a packet of stickers with her sister. She insisted they were hers. I said, “I don’t like it when you don’t play with your sister. It’s nice to share.” And I wondered, “Am I saying the right thing?” Yes, encouraging kids to be social and kind is a good thing. But, should we always insist children share? Shouldn’t we sometimes let them be a bit “selfish”?

The reason I questioned my message, is because I know that a lot of our beliefs about our rights are instilled in us from a very young age.

No!” the toddler screams, “Oh come on, do it for mummy!”

No, I won’t!” the ten year old shouts. “Go to your room!” We shout back.

No’s” from children are unacceptable. We’re managing a team here and we need their cooperation; there is just no time to negotiate. So we punish their “no’s“. My concern is: with repetition, over time, doesn’t the child learn that their “no” is frowned upon?

This worries me. The 7 year old who knows that saying “no” gets her a sulky father, has difficulty saying “no” in her teenage years to others. If a teenager isn’t confident that her “no” will be respected by her parents, how can we expect her to refuse the advances of a boy she likes?

Is your “no” respected?

In the time that I spent working with children, I realised how powerful or powerless they can be. Their sense of control over their environment is of utmost importance to the development of their self-confidence. If their life experience teaches them that they can exhibit control by saying “no” and still be loved and respected, they will have a much easier time owning their “no’s” as adults. If, on the other hand, saying “no” repetitively lands them in trouble and leads to them losing control, they will come to fear or avoid the word “no“.

It’s more than a word, it’s a threshold

The word “no” acts as a gate to our selves. Not asking ourselves whether we want to say “yes” or “no” can land us in major trouble. What if I believe that I don’t really have a choice and must say “yes” to people? I could end up overloaded, walked all over, and even in abusive situations. The result of not protecting myself can lead to further repercussions on my life, including issues like exhaustion, illness, anxiety and mood issues.

Teaching our children to say “no” empowers them with self-protection. “No, I don’t want to do that.” “No, I don’t agree.” These statements can save friendships, marriages, bank balances, health and, even, lives.

So, what do you think? Should we let kids get away with a “no” every so often?

With love,

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