I say no a lot. No you may not have ice cream, no you may not paint the dog, no you may not watch tv in afternoon. Saying no helps my kids learn how to be creative. No tv = magic wands made of paper towel rolls and chasing games around the house and soccer in the yard. My 9-year-old is not allowed to be on the computer before 5 but he can make sauteed shrimp and garlic all on his own and picks out Green Day and Elton John on the piano with no help.
Do I build blocks with Will, my 4 yr old? Yes – we make garages and foreign planets and cuddle. But I also back off and let him design Le Corbusier structures on the kitchen table while I can jams or pay bills. Julia can make her art, glorious layers of watercolors and craypas and Eric Carle-type papers to compliment her stories upstairs by herself. And Jamie, 12, reads more books in a week than he can carry back to the library. None of this would happen if I agreed to everything all the time. As we learn during adulthood, no brings not only a closing of doors, but a freedom to find out what’s next.
That said, if you want a practical tip, here’s one: I am sparing with my use of the actual word no. Used too frequently it loses potency. So instead of saying no, not now, I say “we don’t have time for that now” or “I’d love to paint with you but after I shower” or “the thing is, if we paint the dog he’ll be itchy and bark.”
Another thing: No is messy. It is harder than the immediate gratifiiction of yes. It often requires clean-up. It might involve near-misses with danger. But I want my kids dirty and self-reliant and confident they can tie knots on their own or string a pulley system from one room to the next with cans that are on the way to being recycled. No is harder to say because much of the time, at least at first, you get whining in return. But in the long haul (and parenting is the longest) we need more than just “right now.”
And I say yes: to experiences, to friends, to kids scratching their bug bites and thwacking their thumbs with real hammers to trying something that might sound weird such as greens dusted with crunchy homemade coconut or trekking through Morocco or just sitting, with no screen on, just music our family picks out together, as we read or comment on the paper or draw faces on Daddy’s toes or just wonder. More on yes tomorrow.
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