No means No, right?
Well, yes… and no!
Kids forever want things from their parents, whether it’s a commodity (“Can I have an ice cream, please?”), permission (“Can I use your IPad, please?”) or greater freedom (“Is it okay if I go to a party tonight?”)
They frequently frame their Wants as Needs!
A child will say, “Mum, I need a mobile phone” when he means “Mum, I want mobile phone because many of my friends have one and I’d prefer not to be the odd one out.”
And they’ll often shorten the timeframe so we don’t have time to think about it. “I need new runners for the schools sports TOMORROW!”
Smart parents are adept at dealing with requests that come out of left field. They use comments such as “You need to give me warning if you want something”, “You may want it, but really you don’t need it” and “I’ll think about that and get back to you.”
The folly of backing yourself into a corner
But some parents, when placed under pressure by their kids, back themselves into a corner and simply say NO to all their requests. Then a little time later after giving it some thought they realise that their child’s request was reasonable after all. But stubbornly they don’t give in or revisit the request, as this may be perceived as a weakness.
For many parents there’s no coming back from a no! That’s a pity.
While firmness is a virtue and there are times when NO means NO, there will always be those times that upon reflection you realise that your child or teen may, in fact, have had a case. You may even realise that your NO was unreasonable, unfair or just plain repressive.
These are the times to revisit your children’s and young people’s requests.
“I’ve been thinking about your request for a new shiny (insert your own object) yesterday and I think that you are old enough and responsible enough to have one.”
This approach takes some vulnerability on your part but it’s great for kids to learn that although you don’t always get things right the first time, you are willing to reconsider a decision made in haste. That’s a great lesson for kids to absorb.
Alternatively, avoid backing yourself into a corner in the first place when kids make requests.
Some requests are blatantly unreasonable (“Can I stay up till 11 o’clock tonight to watch TV?”) and deserve an immediate refute. Others though aren’t so cut and dried, and deserve some thought.
In these cases, develop the habits of a) buying yourself some time (“I’ll think about that one and get back to you); b) consulting with a partner (“I’d like to know what you mother/father thinks about that”) or c) putting the responsibility back on kids to present a case (“You need to convince me that you need this”).
Trust your gut
So when do you know the difference between an unreasonable request that deserves an immediate NO and one that deserves some thought?
Your gut instinct will tell you. If you hesitate, or you think fleetingly that maybe your child has a case then it may be best to buy some time, consult or put the onus of your child to make a case for the affirmative.
Often when we are tired or under the pump our gut instinct, which is another name for emotional intelligence, goes out the window.
That’s another reason why parent self-care sits right next to a good night’s sleep as one the best things you can do to improve your parenting.
For more practical strategies to make you feel like you are winning the parenting game check out my book Thriving!. It’s full of simple, doable parenting ideas that are full of heart and wisdom.