A couple of days ago, my father-in-law was listening to an ABC radio program. The discussion point of the program was "busyness". If you spend much time listening to, watching or reading mainstream media you will stumble on this discussion again and again. It is common consensus that this generation of adults feel busier and more stressed than any generation before.
This particular radio program trotted out the common advice to help us decrease our feelings of stress (e.g. soaking in a bath, concentrating on breathing, going to bed, slowing down, delegating non-priority tasks, learning to say 'no', letting go of the guilt at not achieving it all...)
The point of most interest to both my father-in-law and I was a suggestion made about the problem we all have in saying "no". It was suggested that many of us have difficulty saying "no" as adults because of the reaction we got to saying it as children. I know I've done this with my own kids "You don't say 'no' to mummy..." I don't give too much credence to this theory. I think most adults realise that our relationship with other adults is different to the relationship a child has with his/her parents.
But the concept did get me thinking about whether/ how we allow our children to express their dissent...
We do not allow our (older) kids to say 'no' to us. (Miss 16 months says it all the time!). We do not allow them to say 'no', because usually the word 'no' is expressed rudely and disrespectfully from child to parent. But we do allow our bigger kids (mostly Miss almost-4 at the moment) to express dissent.
We would not tolerate: Us: "You can wear this dress to the party this afternoon." Miss almost-4: "No, I'm not wearing that"
We would tolerate: Us: "You can wear this dress to the party this afternoon." Miss almost-4: "Can I wear this dress instead?" (followed by some negotiation)
A year or so ago, I had a different attitude to allowing dissent or negotiation. I followed the philosophy that what mummy (or daddy) says goes. Children are supposed to obey. I did not offer choices and I stuck to my guns. If I said a particular dress would be worn, it would be worn, even if it had to be worn with tears.
What I didn't account for was having a strong-willed then-almost-3 year old. What I didn't realise was that by not allowing dissent or negotiation on the little things, I was turning every interaction into a fight. I didn't consider that my child might not obey me the first time, every time. I didn't realise that I had very few strategies for coping when I wasn't obeyed. I didn't notice at first that in my determination to 'win', I was showing no grace in my parenting. I didn't consider that maybe my child would have an opinion, her own ideas and the determination to not budge!
But more importantly, I didn't consider that maybe parental authority is not the same as parental dictatorship. I didn't realise that I could allow Miss then-almost-3 to have an opinion, to show her dissent, while maintaining my authority. I could offer her some age-appropriate choices, to help her feel some sense of autonomy. I could encourage her to show kindness and consideration for the feelings of others (including mine!), rather than just teaching her to 'do what I say'. I could treat her with grace, and kindness and respect, rather than with a bunch of rules.
I can let my kids say 'no'. But, I can teach them to say 'no' kindly and respectfully. I can teach them when 'no' is appropriate, and when it is not appropriate (some instructions do just need to be obeyed). I don't know if this will help them become adults who can say 'no' more easily, but I do know that this is turning the 'no's into opportunities for teaching, rather than opportunities for punishment.
Do you let your kids say "no"?