“No!” one of the best words to teach your child. It could save their life.

HOW TO SAY “NO!” (and mean it)
One of the best things you can teach and model for your child.

Have you taught your child to say “NO!”? When I ask this of parents the usual response is…”Are you crazy?  Why on earth would I want to teach my kid to say “No” (in their minds saying, “…to me”)?  Well, let me ask you these questions:

Do you want your son or daughter to be able to say…

                      NO! to drugs?
                           NO! to alcohol?
                                NO! to cigarettes?
                                     NO! to sex?
                                          NO! to peer pressure?
                                               NO! to bullying?
                                                    NO! to inappropriateness by an adult?

If you answered “YES” to just one of these then you really do want to teach your child to say “NO”. Here’s the deal.  This is not about teaching your child to be disrespectful. It is about teaching your child how to respect themselves and others. Most parents initially baulk at the idea of this because they feel it will open the confrontational floodgate at home. I’ve got news for you, that “floodgate” is most likely open right now. Teaching your child how to respect themselves by knowing how to say “No” appropriately can actually close that gate.

Take a moment and think about that friend, that co-worker, or even yourself for that matter, who agrees to everything.  Every time the boss comes to him with a new project he just smiles and says, “No problem.”  Then as soon as the boss is gone he turns to you and complains about how overworked he is (overwhelmed seems to be the current word of choice) and that he will once again be spending another weekend, without pay, catching up. Or that friend who says “yes” to every community fund raiser, church or social club project, but has no time to take care of herself (and it shows). The only time she gets a break is by getting sick.  The problem is that most of us did not get “No” training as kids.  Have you ever heard this phrase before, “Don’t say no to me in my house” or something similar?  So how can you become proficient at doing anything if you are not first, taught how to do it; second, allowed to practice; and third, coached through the process?  Learning to take care of oneself by saying “No” is no different than learning any type of skill. The challenge that you might face as a parent is that your own skill at invoking the power of “No” may be weak, so your confidence as a teacher may be low. But it’s important to make the effort to teach this because it could actually save your child’s life one day.  Be diligent.

So here is what you do to teach your child (and yourself) how to say “No”.  First you need to look for teachable moments.  Those times when your child is saying “No” by using lots of words, with his anger, with her forgetfulness, anytime they are pushing back and their resistance is communicating, “No, I am not going to do that” or “No, I do not want to do that.”  Here’s your opportunity.  Resist the urge to want to MAKE them do something, and instead say, “Wow, you feel really strong about this” or “I see that you are upset about this.”  When feelings are acknowledged, the door to communication begins to open, leading to talking rather than yelling.  As soon as you feel the tension drop and receptivity go up you might say something like, “How are we going to work this out?” or “How can we do this differently?”

O.K. so now you know how to recognize the “No” situation and are ready for the next step;
Using Other Words.  Simply replace the word “No” with “I am not willing to.”  The phase “I am not willing to” is very powerful and says that you are taking complete responsibility. You will definitely have to play with it before it starts to feel comfortable.  “I am not willing to (fill in the blank), but what I am willing to do is (fill in the blank)”.  It is not just the words alone but the essence of what is behind them.  “Mom, I am not willing to clean up my room right now, but I am willing to clean it up in an hour.  Does that work for you?”  Your skeptical side might be showing, right?  Just remember it will only happen with you teaching and modeling this behavior, taking advantage of opportunities to practice and to be there as a mentor/coach.

“No!” is still a very powerful word and should not be removed from any one’s vocabulary.  It can convey powerful intention when coupled with physical posturing. A similar word is “Stop!”  I remember one of our daughters was having an issue with a little boy chasing her when she was in kindergarten.  For him it was a game (us guys are guys), for her it was annoying.  Of course he would start chasing and she would start running, so again, being a guy, he was getting what he wanted.  We did some role play at home to prepare her in how to say “Stop!” with conviction.  I would chase her around the living room, then Kathleen would show her how to spin around, take a firm stance while bringing her finger to an “in your face” position and sternly say “Stop!”  It worked. He did.  Role playing for situations like this is a great way to teach your child how to take care of herself.  But remember, you have to take the time to teach and then allow for practice.

In being the father of two daughters I can tell you that I heard my share of “No’s”.  Sometimes I handled them pretty well, other times not so well.  In the “not so well” situations I was focused on what I wanted for the short term (my way or the highway) rather than the long term goal of wanting them to be confident and powerful. It then became my responsibility, usually at the coaxing of Kathleen, for me to go back and repair the relationship and talk about what had happened and how it could be different.  It’s called being the adult, taking responsibility for your actions, parenting with the long term goal in mind.

You are doing a great job, hang in there.  And as always, take care of yourself, listen for and encourage those “No’s”, let people know what you are willing and not willing to do, and most of all have fun!

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