Lisa Murray, M.A.
Yes, I heard it a lot growing up. The word no. It’s such a little word with a lot of influence on parents and children.
No, you cannot watch television all day.
No, you may not skip dinner.
No, you may not use the car.
This word has fallen out of vogue in many educational, psychological, and parenting fields, opting for a more friendly, egalitarian approach to raising our kids. We were all eager to embrace it, a more politically correct, more permissive Dr. Spock-endorsed approach that guided parents towards a relationship of reasoning with our children.
We know that many times we as parents say “no” too often and too easily. We know the constant use of the word “no” renders it less effective. We know that used in anger and frustration, this word can destroy a child’s ability to grow a healthy sense of self.
What I am coming to believe, though, is that by never saying no, we as parents are becoming increasingly overprotective, and producing children who are in many ways entitled, psychologically fragile, and ill-equipped for the real world. Because they have never had to endure any kind of failure, nor build the internal resilience that comes from persevering in the face of obstacles and opposition, they are in essence, set up to fail.
In a recent HuffPost article, Lori Freson, M.A., LMFT says, News flash: Kids need you to say ‘no.’ Children are not emotionally or developmentally equipped to make major decisions or rules, or to self-regulate. That’s your job. And if you don’t do it, your child will feel a sense of confusion and internal chaos, which could manifest itself in stomachaches, headaches, tantrums and even ulcers.
Perhaps we need a different perspective on our parenting. As Dr. Robin Berman, Los Angeles-based psychiatrist and author states, Parenting is not a democracy; it’s a benevolent dictatorship. While we need to listen better so that we can understand our children’s feelings, we also need to draw boundaries for respect and responsibility, if we want our children to thrive both now and in the future.
There are four reasons our children NEED to hear the word no:
They need to learn how to respect others.
Many young adults today have little notion of respect. They have been trained to believe they possess equal power and position to the adults in their lives. Their perspective of respect tends to be focused primarily on getting what they want rather that respecting their parents, grandparents, teachers, or coaches based on their position of authority in their lives. I hear it often from teenagers— “I respect my parents when they let me do what I want to do.”
The problem is that as our children become adults, if they have not been taught a healthy respect for authority, they will always be fighting against their bosses, their spouses, and yes, even God. By saying no to our children, we are allowing them to learn firsthand how to respect us as the God-given authority in their lives, and further to respect all God-given authority in their lives. What a blessing to them as they learn to navigate a complex adult world and even more complex adult relationships.
They need to learn that the world owes them nothing.
Most of us have experienced having to live with no’s in our lives—whether they are no’s to our career ambitions, to our hopes and dreams, even to our health and wellbeing. It doesn’t take too long in adulthood to realize that no can be a common, if not undesirable theme.
When kids get everything they want, they get entitled, and when they get entitled, they get selfish, according to Britney at Equipping Godly Women. If we want our children to thrive, they need to experience what no feels like so they can develop better self-reliance and resilience, that are necessary traits to successfully accomplish their goals in life. Children who never hear no can never be grateful for the yes’ in their lives.
They need to learn to recognize warning signs to danger.
If children are never told no, they fail to develop some important internal cues that will protect them from potentially harmful or dangerous situations. Whether it is, No, don’t touch the hot stove, or No, don’t play in the street, parents need to remember that children are not small adults, nor have they fully developed advanced cognitive reasoning skills needed to assess risk and employ protective strategies. It is our job to teach them.
By placing limits and saying no, children learn to recognize early signals to potential danger and develop the necessary skills to keep themselves safe. They are better at learning who to trust, and when to trust, experiencing less heartache and disappointment from learning how to deal with toxic people and situations.
They need to learn to regulate their emotions.
Many times parents avoid telling their children no, not because it is right or called for but because they fear upsetting them. Fear of our children and their moods should never be the guiding factor behind our parenting.
Our children need to feel inside the disappointment that comes from no and learn to manage the difficult emotions that arise more effectively. We cannot spend our lives trying to protect them from every pain and discouragement that comes along. We can prepare them to deal well in any situation life will bring.
While I am not suggesting we become tyrants or overuse our “no’s,” I do believe we can use them appropriately and effectively to nurture our children and help them develop skills such as self-reliance, self-discipline, respect, integrity and a host of other crucial character traits. Let’s learn to use our “no’s” wisely and calmly so we can strengthen and fortify our children, thus empowering their lives and futures.
Lisa Murray, M.A. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Franklin, TN, with an undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, as well as a graduate degree from Trevecca University. In 2007 Lisa founded the Counseling and Family Ministries at Grace Chapel in Leipers Fork, TN, where she not only works to help individuals, couples, and families, deal with the complexities and challenges of life and relationships, she also treats a full spectrum of mental health issues. Peace for a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com. Connect with Lisa on Facebook: Lisa Murray, author, or on Twitter: @_Lisa_Murray