kids

"I decided to stop saying 'no' unless I did one crucial thing. It's made me a better parent."

I came to terms with the fact that I’d be playing the role of “bad cop” in the movie of our children’s lives long before they were born. Besides the fact that my husband is much calmer and easier going than I am, I’ve always found more comfort in rule-based environments. Oh, and did I mention I’m a control freak?

I had always planned on being an authoritarian-style parent, so I was quite shocked when I found myself very uncomfortable with words like “no” and “don’t”.

I realised I had an issue with these words when my daughter first started walking. She was touching and opening everything in the house, so I naturally started using the words more and more each frequently.

It wasn’t like these words were like other words though. No, they were on fire. It wasn’t the feisty-but-loving-mama-bear-approach I had planned on deploying. I had quickly become a war general.

One day Stella reached for a cup of hot coffee that I had just put on our side table. A few weeks prior she had knocked the same mug onto half of her toys, so before she could reach it I screamed, “Absolutely not. NO!”

LISTEN: Sean Szeps talks about how he says ‘no’ to his twins on Mamamia’s podcast for new parents, The Baby Bubble.

She stopped in her tracks, looked back at me, and started crying.

I had this new, magical new power. Instant control over another human. But it wasn’t the control that I wanted. Stella seemed scared. Scared of the words I was using, scared of the thing I had just linked to that word, and seemingly scared of me.

I hated it.

It reminded me of being a kid all over again. It brought me back to hearing someone of authority shout “NO” without any context. And you’d just sit there stewing, wondering for hours “why?”

If you were bold enough to ask, you were usually given an unsatisfactory “because I said so”. And that never EVER sufficed. It still doesn’t, right?

As adults, those responses simply don’t cut it. We demand explanations for why people are restricting us. We ask others to explain their rationale for asking us to not do things we want to do. So if our goal as parents is to produce stable, happy adults who can function in the real world, why don’t we treat them from a young age the same way we expect to be treated when they go up?

how to discipline children Sean Szeps
"I had this new, magical new power. But it wasn’t the control that I wanted." Image: Supplied.
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I know what you’re thinking. “It’s not that simple. Kids need structure. It our job as parents to set limits and help prepare them for adulthood.” And, you’re right!

There are completely justified reasons for why we need to use the words “don’t” and “stop” as parents. The world can be a very unsafe place and children don’t have an understanding of right or wrong just yet, because they haven’t experienced things that might hurt them.

But I believe saying “no” without providing an explanation as to why you’re saying it, doesn’t actually teach them a lesson. Instead, it establishes dominance and stops an action from occurring in the short term.

That’s why I decided six months ago to never say “no” in isolation.

It’s not just about stopping them from reaching for a coffee mug, it’s about explaining to your child why they shouldn’t touch that mug. I think there’s a very big difference.

Will they understand exactly what you’re saying when you dive into the reason why you’ve asked them not to do something? Maybe not.

But will it be clear that they are experiencing a type of communication that feels different from a harsh or overly playful interaction? And will it push you to think about why you’re telling them to not do something versus just getting into the habit of restricting behaviour? Abso-f*cking-lutely.

Parenting is really difficult. Just like flipping on the TV after you’ve told yourself “no more”, you WILL find yourself throwing out the dreaded “because I said so” to stop the action or conversation from happening so you can move on with you life.

But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find so much more joy and pride in taking the extra step to backup your requests with explanations.

To hear me and my co-host, Zoe Marshall, talk more about saying “no” to our kids, as well as kissing strangers and having sex after a baby, listen to Episode Four of The Baby Bubble.

If you're a parent, where do you stand on the word 'no'? How do you discipline your children? Tell us in a comment below.

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