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Saying No to Your Child

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  • Article summary:

    Their self esteem might be shrinking as your child’s stack of toys grow

. Why do we find it so hard to say no?

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Saying No to Your Child

We all seem to be in such a hurry these days. It’s so much easier to give in and buy whatever it is your child wants than to spend time explaining why you won’t buy it or spend time dealing with their sulks when they don’t get it.

Afraid of causing a scene
Which is easier - wander around the shop with a contented child who is slowly savouring their ice cream - or drag a screaming child round while you attempt to do your shopping!

When your child asks for that treat you may think “why be mean - it only costs 50p so it won’t break the bank.” There is no doubt, we do have more disposable cash today and many parents do not think twice about spending it all on their children.

What message are you giving if you continually ‘give in’?

“You can have anything you want”
You are creating a child who will have totally unrealistic expectations of you and the world - they will expect to get everything they want. You can be sure that their requests will get bigger and more expensive as they become aware of all the goodies out there. While you may indulge your child’s wishes, the world just isn’t like that and your child may be in for a rude awakening when they encounter the many situations where they actually can’t have what they want.

“It doesn’t matter how you treat your things - you can always get more”
Children who continually get toys and treats quickly learn not to value these things; after all they can be replaced easily. They will also lose their sense of wonder at new things if they are continually showered with gifts. They may come to regard new toys with disdain if they don’t live up to their too high expectations and have no sense of gratitude for any gifts or treats received.

“I can’t give you time but I can give you ‘things’”
If this is the message your child is getting don’t be surprised if they don’t place any value on these things or show any gratitude at getting all this stuff. ‘Things’ just cannot replace your time. If children do not get the attention and input from you, among other things, they do not develop a sense of their worth. They may feel they are not worth spending time with. So even though you might be showering your little one with gifts their self esteem might be shrinking as their stack of toys grow.

“If you get upset we will get you a treat”
The child who always receives that treat when they start to cry and shout that they want it, is learning a dangerous lesson. Do you think other children will be as giving as you, when faced with a playmate who cries every time they don’t get their own way? Or how will your child cope as an adult in a world where they most definitely won’t always get their way?

Should I start saying ‘no?
The answer to this is yes and no.

Do start saying no to requests for things like sweets, toys and keep these for special occasions, your child will value them more.

Do start saying yes to requests for your time - make the time. Parenting isn’t about just getting through these years you should be enjoying your child and what better way than to spend time with them. Discover what they like, allow them time to show off their new skills and knowledge, give them praise and encouragement and relax together.

How do I start?
Firstly look at your time and make space for your child in your schedule. After all, when it comes down to it, they are the most important thing in your life. If you can give your child the gift of your time and attention this is worth more than any toy or treat. Plan at least one time slot every week that is for your child and you to do something of interest to your child. If your child is old enough let them know about this time and plan an activity for it. Remember though there will be many times during your week when you can spend an extra few minutes with your child - housework, gardening, newspapers, TV. shouldn’t take priority over the precious time you can give your child.

Cut down on the toys and treats. Begin by deciding what is acceptable - one sweet every day or just special days. One toy every day, week, month, just on birthdays, Christmas, special occasions? Every family will have their own rules, decide what is best for your family and agree to stick to it. Again if your child is old enough you can explain these new rules to them.

Initially it will be difficult as your child may have trouble believing that you really mean no, in the past this wasn’t the case. They will protest and may throw tantrums but remember the consequences of giving in.

There are many ways of dealing with and avoiding confrontational situations with your child, you will find many articles in the Discipline section giving practical tips on these situations. But do remember that some protests are inevitable and be prepared to feel under pressure and uncomfortable at times. However if your child does learn that when you say no you mean it, you are teaching them a valuable lesson for life.

Anne O'Connor

Anne is a Child Clinical Psychologist and is the founder of
Anne holds a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology and a further Masters Degree in Applied Behaviour Analysis.Anne is a registered member of The Psychological Society of Ireland.




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