I was born at a very young age and...bud um boom...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Raising children to accept a "No"

This past week I watched a young mother sitting with her three year old boy in a restaurant. She asked him if she could have one of his chicken nuggets. He frowned and said: "No." She gave him an angry look, disregarded his negative response, speared a nugget on his plate and ate it. He became angry and began to cry. She looked at him and said sternly: "You need to learn to share! Mommy can have a nugget if she wants one!"

What is both important and interesting about this to me is that, unwittingly, this young mother was teaching her son to regard a "No" answer as unacceptable. If we buy the idea that one mark of maturity is the ability to accept either a "Yes" or a "No" with equal grace when we ask a favor of another, then this young boy was being shown that it is okay to ignore a "No" answer.

I once asked a good friend if I could borrow his sleeping bag for a camping trip. He said: "No, I'd rather not--it's too personal an item to loan out." I reacted poorly and said: "Jeez--I can't believe you won't loan it to me. That hurts my feelings." He answered: "Ron, let me get this straight--am I only allowed to say "Yes" when you ask me a favor?" After thinking it over, I apologized.

In this vein, I notice that young mothers often say to their toddlers: "Okay, we're going to go home now--okay?" When they tag the sentence with the "Okay?" they are asking a question that can be answered "Yes" or "No." When the child says "No" and is forced to leave anyway they are, again, teaching their child to ignore a "No." They are also setting up a combative situation, one that will lead to a tantrum and a win-lose ending.

Additionally, why would a mother give a toddler control over when to leave or stay? It makes no sense. It is her decision, not the toddler's. I try to teach young mothers that an essential child management skill with toddlers is to make declarative statements. For example: "Billy, it's time to go home now. Let's get your coat on and get going." To ask a toddler's permission is simply inviting trouble. They love saying "No" (which is understandable since, given their age, they have almost no interpersonal or decision making control) and then, if you ignore their "No" you're teaching them the wrong thing.


Post a Comment

<< Home