The other night as I was putting my four year old to bed, and he started asking some questions about Santa. The one that I remember the most and which has no perfect answer was, “Dad, why doesn’t Santa get us all the presents that we ask for?”
This question could be replaced with many things my son asks for. “Dad, why didn’t you let me watch another TV show?” or “Dad, why didn’t you let me have another cookie?” These represent the daily tension we currently have in our house with a four, almost five year old. He asks for things, and sometimes we say yes and sometimes we say no. And often when we say no, the drama, questions, and conflict come quickly. It is almost guaranteed to come when it involves snacks, treats, TV, or going to bed.
“Dad, can I have another cookie?”
“Dad, you are not my friend. I hate you. You can never play with me again!”
All for just a cookie? Sheesh. What’s gonna happen when I tell you can’t have a phone or car in a few years?
We teach our children to ask good questions and be willing to challenge the answers so they can be independent, thoughtful people. I love to foster my children’s questions and encourage them when they ask thoughtful ones. As they get older, I will encourage them to occasionally challenge authority in a respectful, and peaceful manner.
But then our children quickly turn these new found skills around on us when we tell them no! We are immediately being tested as they ask us questions that are skeptical of why we denied their request. Why cannot I not watch another show dad? But mom said.. But so and so got…
Why does saying no as a parent have to be so hard?
Saying no is hard, but, it’s also powerful. It’s exhausting and it tests our patience and memory. It requires my wife and I to over-communicate so that we can be on the same page. And it requires resolve. And did I say patience yet?
But in my heart and soul as a father, I relish at this opportunity. I want nothing more than the ability to shape my children’s character for the good. These are some of the best moments to do so, even though the emotional turmoil we feel in the moment tries to tell us otherwise.
The moments when we give them presents and say yes is not how we shape their character. It’s when we choose to say no and how we communicate it that will leave a bigger impact on their character. It allows us an opportunity to help them be grateful for what they do have. This test and challenge helps make me a better man by often testing my convictions and consistency.
These moments and conversations with us are the training grounds for real life. Sometime life isn’t fair, doesn’t make sense, yet we still get the short straw. Sometimes our children need to be told no without a rational explanation and learn just deal with it.
But saying no is hard. We don’t want them to be mad at us. We don’t want them to miss out on many wonderful experiences life has to offer. We want to be cool and like us as a friend.
This inner conflict can test our judgement and throw us into emotional turmoil. We need to acknowledge that we feel this way and we’re a bit afraid of making our child upset, especially in public. But we want to do the right thing which often requires us to stick to our guns and say no.
We will be tested, after a stressful day at work, when we’re tired and sick, or when we’re distracted with something else going on in life. This all the more reason to be present when we’re with our children.
We’ll also be persuaded. The puppy dog eyes and manners will come out in full force. Promises of chores and obedience will rain down like we’ve always dreamed and hoped of.
But sometimes we need to just say no. Often saying yes is easier, but that doesn’t mean we should.
Saying no is a habit or a muscle that requires practice and training. And it should get easier over time. Our children will learn where the regular boundaries are and if we’re consistent, they may not ask for the same thing over and over again.
We also need to stop negotiating all the time. When they are emotional about a situation, we will not be able to persuade them effectively to understand why we say no. We do not have to continually provide detailed explanations. Sometimes this is hard in the moment but we have to remind our children that they do not run the house.
Younger children will benefit by hearing us say no to certain things to older children. They may learn to not even ask for them or if they do, not put up a fight knowing it’s futile.
Currently my kids are asking for more cookies, more TV, more french fries, and to stay up later. Soon it will be sleepovers, staying up even later, and video games. Then it will become cell phones, graffic video games, and fancy clothes. Later it will be a car, no curfew, and money. I imagine that the conversations will get harder as they get older as their intelligence grows. This makes it all the more important to set the standard now on what no means.
So as we approach the holidays, ask yourself this question, is saying yes to every request our children ask really loving them after all, or is just easier in the short-term?