My daughter came home from school the other day and relayed a story where another child in her class told her that her mom says that if she says no she is saying no to God. The therapist in me cringed. I cringed because I have worked with kids that felt like they couldn't say no, and I have seen the situations these children have found themselves in. I have worked with adults that struggled with saying no, and I have seen how they feel stressed, overextended, and may find themselves in situations that aren't in their best interest or even harmful.
I took a deep breathe and refocused on the moment at hand. I asked her to tell me more about what she meant by that. Now keep in mind that this is a conversation between two children. Both are relaying messages through their filter. I have no confirmation about what this child's mother actually said to her or in what context. As my daughter explained the situatio, it turns out this little girl wanted my daughter to do something and she said no. The little girl then shared with her what her mother told her about "if you say no you are saying no to God".
As parents the word "no" can be so frustrating. No parent likes when they ask their child to do something and are faced with the response of "no" (or some variation of it) . We all wish our children were compliant with us all of the time. I suspect this may have been what motivated this little girl's mother to say this to her. My guess is that it may have been said to increase compliance to the mother's directives. The challenge is that you cannot have it both ways. I have written before about children saying no in terms of hyscal boundaries and the concept here is the same. As you can see this little girl is generalizing this statement to all scenarios. Her understanding seems to be saying no to anyone at anytime is going against God. If children are not shown or given permissions to say no at home then they most likely will not use it out in the world. This doesn't mean that we allow our children to do whatever they want because they said no. But we can validate their feelings and not punish them for saying it.
Here is how that would play out:
Parent: I need you to clean our room.
Parent: I understand that you don't want to but I need you to clean your room now.
This validates their "no" without accepting it. If the child still refuses natural consequences may follow (ex. we can't go to the park until we clean up, etc). There are a million other times in parenting that we can accept the "no". These may include a child wanting alone time and saying no to interacting or a child's wish to not be hugged or touched. The key is to allow them to say it. To give permission for our children to articulate their disapproval without suffereing consequences for it (again this does not mean we as parents give in to every protest but rather to avoid punishing that protest).
So, as all of this ran through my mind I decided to use this opportunity to highlight the imptortance of the word "no" in our lives. My daughter and I explored all of the times that we should say no. She seemed impacted by what this little girl had said so I shared with her my persepective that God gave us the word no to use to protect ourselves. That is is acceptable to use especially if we know that it is the right thing to do. We can absolutely use it if someone is hurting us, doing something we dont like, or if we don't feel comfortable in a situation. We sat together and identified numerous situations in which one should say no.
It is so important that we as arents arm our children with the tool to manage the world outside of our home. Saying no is just part of having healthy boundaries. I understand that people feel that this may be a more challenging way to parent and I don't disagree. This takes more time than the old school way of "I said it so you do it". It takes more work up front to allow your child to express themselves and work through that. The seeds are planted when they are young, and these skills are learned and practiced in the home long before they are used out in the world. In the long run however, you will have a child that has their voice, their boundaires, and the courage and ability to say no to situations that don't serve their highest good. They can go out into the world and feel confident that they have to ability and tools to stand up for themselves.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parent Coach. Mighty Oak Parenting was started as a way for her to share all the things she learned from being a therapist as well as a parent. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.
**Disclaimer: This blog is the opinion of an individual and is not to be construed as professional advice or a professional relationship. If you are seeking mental health advice contact a therapist in your area. If you are experiencing an emergency, head to your nearest emergency room or call 911