Sometimes Saying No Instead of Yes is Exactly What Your Kids Need

Saying No to Kids

When we moved into the house we live in now, my husband and I spent weeks painting my son’s bedroom walls, closet and trim. I printed and framed photos I thought would cheer him in the morning, and comfort him at night. I bought a plush Pottery Barn Kids rug, in just the same sky-blue shade as his accent walls, for him and his brothers to roll around on.

It cost over $700 and I can’t remember the last time I spent that much on myself, my husband or our home, but I slapped that credit card down with zero qualms. I scoured stores for that just-right duvet cover and pillowcase. Agonized over artwork and bookcase placement. All because I wanted his room to be his ideal sanctuary, a place where his imagination could roam free.

Now, when my son rebels, his first inclination is to trash the place. Down come the picture frames and artwork, the memories, the peace.

Recently, on a Friday night, my husband had sent our son to his room for being rude. And then a second time for being unapologetic about being rude. Each time he went into his room, much clanging and banging followed.

“Please, daddy, can I come out now?” he sweetly begged.

“Did you learn your lesson?”

“But I didn’t do anything!”

“Then no. You haven’t learned your lesson. Back to your room.”

I cowered in the kitchen because I would have caved a thousand times over, and I didn’t want to play the good cop to my husband’s bad cop. I also wondered what my kid thought was so bad about being sent to a room that had been so carefully curated for his enjoyment.

“Please, daddy, can I just come out and watch the hockey game with you?”

Oh, please, can he? Hasn’t the boy suffered enough? It’s Friday night!

My husband wasn’t bending. “No. You’re staying in your room all night and that’s it.”

I’ll give him all the credit in the world, because it would have been easy, and much more pleasant, to let our son come out of his room. Sometimes it’s really hard to just say no to our kids. Perhaps because as parents we’re built to want to give only, not deny. Mostly, we just want them to be happy, and to like us. Yet, sometimes—or most of the time, even—being a good parent involves doing the thing that puts us out of favour with them.

Case in point: While I’ve managed to hold fast to keeping Fortnite out of our house, I don’t mind if my eldest plays it at friends’ houses—it’s my way of controlling how often and how long he plays. Plus it keeps it from his younger brothers.

Anytime we talk about Fortnite with other parents, though, they always insist, “Don’t get it!” And yet they have it. And they continue to let their kids play with it, as much as they dislike the behaviour it helps create. And inside, I’m thinking, Well, why the hell don’t you get rid of it?

I’m so proud and grateful that my husband didn’t give in that Friday night, even if it made him unlikeable in my son’s eyes. I know he was thinking that if we don’t stand our ground now, how will we get through the teen years? All we did was banish my son to his room, a place that I had so carefully ensured is a place he can feel happy and safe in. So why is this even considered a punishment?

And why was it so hard for me to see him denied when all he had to do was apologize? It’s just as the old-fashioned saying goes: This is going to hurt me more than it does you.

I’m not condoning spankings, I’m just saying parents—myself included—need to take back “No.”

I think for a while now parents have been encouraged to negotiate, and that doesn’t always work. Sometimes a simple, firm “no” is exactly what kids need. Maybe now more than ever.


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