Would you call yourself a ‘yes parent’ or a ‘no parent’? In the very early years many parents notice how many times they say no. With that awareness they might attempt to create a more ‘yes’ environment because, let’s face it, we hold so much power and our children are at our mercy much of the time.
It’s also difficult for a pre-verbal toddler to be denied something they can’t possibly understand or interpret so ‘no’ becomes synonymous with frustration for parents and child alike.
As children enter the kindergarten years, the need for parental boundaries increases. Boundaries mean saying no. And saying no can be done with loving kindness. And it’s an essential and inevitable part of parenting!
Yet many parents find it difficult to say no because they fear the child’s reaction or upset. Or more likely, they fear their own discomfort in having to deal with the child’s reaction.
So have we become less confident in saying no and setting confident boundaries? Has the pendulum swung too far from the authoritarian and punishing parenting style of a few decades ago? Back then, the cultural collusion in not caring for children’s reactions or feelings, was normalised as being necessary.
Fortunately, empathy, compassion and attachment appears to have moved into the parenting arena in a significant way. But in caring so much, are we avoiding saying ‘no’ for fear of causing unhappiness?
Are we innocently depriving our children from experiencing disappointment, from experiencing what happens when we hear ‘no’. Are we innocently starting to believe that our children aren’t resilient enough to hear ‘no’? Are we innocently afraid children can’t weather the ‘no’ and return to their innate wellbeing?
I’m wary of blaming parents for the woeful mental health of teens who have lost faith in their own resilience. There are so many factors involved in teen wellbeing.
But being connected to our own sense of resilience, recognising how we can handle a ‘no’, how we persevere, how we can trust ourselves – those are true life skills.
So here’s a theory and I can’t prove it. So it’s open to discussion! But ‘yes’ after ‘yes’ after ‘yes’ (whether it’s to more TV time or another sweet or another t-shirt etc) is a bit like a social media ‘Like’.
The chemical effect of a ‘Like’ or a ‘yes’ is a little hit of dopamine, it’s a bit more complicated than a simple high as well. It’s more like a high that craves the next high.
We know teens struggle with social media for this very reason. Tech brain hackers understand the way dopamine works and the inventor of the ‘Like’ button regrets his idea which he can no longer take back. He also compares Snapchat to heroin and ‘Likes’ as “pseudo-pleasure”.
If ‘Likes’ are social validation and we have become addicted, what does that mean about the quality of our attachment relationships? I suspect our kids need attuned parents who validate AND who offer kind firm boundaries.
So if we rarely hear ‘no’ in childhood what will we seek out in adulthood? What if we don’t get the ‘yes’ we want from our boss or girlfriend or colleague? What if we don’t get enough ‘Likes’? What would we turn to in order to feel that high? I can think of many unhealthy choices.
So while it feels like a leap, I’m offering it up as an idea.
If we don’t hear a clear confident ‘no’ in childhood, does that predispose us to seek out the thrill of a ‘yes’ in adulthood in an unhealthy way?
Parents – say no! Know why you’re setting that boundary – get connected with why it matters, how it reflects your values and offer it with calm confidence.
Children vibe with authenticity – they will hear and feel your steady authority. They will also accept it and they will feel whatever response they have and they will be stronger for it. They will build resilience.
You’re not responsible for your child’s feelings or reactions to a ‘no’ and you don’t need to fear them. Act with good intentions and the child will show you how perfectly they can regain their wellbeing within a loving, supportive environment.