When Saying “No” is too Difficult
It is just so hard for me to tell my children “no” when they want to do things that I think they shouldn’t, and then we end up in fights. How can I get past this?
Quite a few parents these days describe difficulties setting limits on their children and much turmoil in the family as a result. While children often participate actively in intense conflict, almost none like the interactions. Imagine your child asking for something that you decide, after thinking it over, is not appropriate and you say “no.” Then picture these two scenarios:
1 Your children object, you repeat your decision, the children whine and complain, you say “no” again, they whine more, you get upset and yell, and the escalation continues until finally you give in – and you all know you will soon repeat the pattern with the same outcome. In this scenario, your children can pretty much count on getting their way, but only after much conflict and unhappiness in your home.
2 Your children object but you have carefully considered the request and you explain your decision one more time, then silently refuse to react to escalating whining, no matter how persistent. While disappointed, the children finally realize there is no point in continuing and the fussing dies away. In this scenario, sometimes the children don’t get their way but much more of the time the family is calm and interactions are pleasant.
Now imagine that your children could fully appreciate the differences in the two outcomes. Which reaction do you suppose your children would prefer? I don’t know your children but I’d guess they would opt for number 2, fewer fights and more comfort at home even if it means not getting their way sometimes. The problem is that children cannot fully understand such choices and therefore it is up to adults to teach them.
Teenagers, even some labeled “incorrigible,” sometimes tell their psychotherapists that “I wish my parents had cared enough for me to stop me.” Such a comment is powerful evidence that children need the safety and protection provided by parents who set reasonable limits. It might be useful for you to reread the portion of Chapter 3 about what causes and how to deal with control struggles between parents and children.
Your question, of course, shows that you already realize that you should be able to say “no” and make it stick. This book presents an approach that relies on parents’ guiding and supporting children in taking responsibility for their own behavior. Design a program for each of your children, including behavior items related to your concerns. Be sure that you address those situations that have typically led to the conflicts that you described. By defining success behaviors that focus on what you do want each child to do – and which are incompatible with the behaviors you want to end – you can expect fewer conflicts when you set limits. Your most loving and helpful gift to your children is the benefit of your greater life experience, including establishing suitable boundaries for them.