By Neerja Birla
“Can I do this?”, “Can I have that?”, “Why can’t I?” — Every parent knows that feeling of being bombarded with sentences that start like that. As parents, we’re conditioned to say “No”, and most often it’s with good reason.
These days we’re constantly thinking “Am I being too permissive as a parent?”, “Am I spoiling my kids?” Or we’re worried we’re being too authoritarian and that we’ll end up having our kids resent us. For me, the best parenting approach is whatever style that will be conducive to helping each individual child grow up into kind, empathetic adults who can make rational and well-thought-out decisions and be motivated to fulfill their innate potential.
So how does it affect a child to constantly keep hearing “No” to everything they ask?
You’ve probably noticed that after a while, the “No” that you say stops having an effect. Kids get desensitised between a “No” said to something trivial like wanting to eat candy before a meal and a “No” said to something serious that could possibly hurt them. When you say “No” too often, you’ll notice an increase in tantrums, back talk, or outright rebellion. A lot of negative reinforcement or criticism could eventually teach them to be obedient, but it also quashes their natural inquisitiveness and the development of their thought patterns and even their confidence. Do we want to raise kids who will do as they are told all their lives, or do we want to raise kids who can grow up to be good decision-makers?
Part of the developmental journey of a child is to explore the world around them and push the boundaries set for them. As parents, our role is to protect our children while teaching them and helping them grow. When kids keep asking the kinds of things that make you instinctively say “No”, it’s because they’re trying to understand how things work.
As parents, we do need to use our discretion to pick which are the non-negotiable situations that require a hard “No” and who are the situations that could benefit from saying it in a more positive way. It doesn’t always have to be a choice between “No” and “Yes” — you could try positive phrasing such as – “Yes, but after you’ve done….” “Yes, but let me think about it first”, “Yes, but only if you can tell me why….” “Yes, but what do you think will happen…”
Consequences and confidence
Saying “No” ends the learning process as soon as the child tries to push his boundaries. When you use positive phrasing, you’re encouraging them to think for themselves. It helps them understand why they can’t do something, and what the consequences of it are. It encourages them to think for themselves and to make decisions – it teaches them to weigh pros and cons and also to understand the consequences of their decisions. All of this gives them a sense of confidence and surety that will stay with them all their lives.
When you use positive phrasing and say “Yes” more, it helps kids be more accepting of the times when you do say “No”. Hearing the negative response constantly can acclimatise them to a negative mindset in life, whereas if one were to use positive phrasing, it would help them develop a habit of looking at the world in a positive, more optimistic way. When you encourage their desire for information and understanding instead of scolding, it also lays a lifelong foundation of trust with your child. When you say “Yes”, but also explain what could happen if they made a particular decision, you give kids a sense of autonomy. Any consequences that they have to deal with becomes a result of a choice they made – that’s a learning moment and it takes away the anger that’s often directed at parents for enforcing discipline. (“This happened because I chose to do….”, as opposed to “My parents are always being mean”.)
Encouraging creative thinking
The natural curiosity and desire to experiment that children have are the building blocks of creativity – even when it comes to things like problem solving. Positive phrasing helps them learn to think in different ways, it helps indulge their childlike sense of wonder about the world instead of leaving them feel constantly rebuked.
By making slight changes in the way we communicate with kids, we can transform childhood into a truly foundational experience where they learn reasoning skills, communication skills, and more importantly, it helps forge a beautiful relationship between you and your kids!
(The writer is Founder and Chairperson of Aditya Birla Education Trust)
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