An article from the book ‘Your Child is Your Parent’ by Manoj J Lekhi.
The number of times we say ‘no’ or ‘don’t’ to a child is absolutely worth keeping a track of. A better way of going about any such situation would be to first say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’, and then pause to reflect on how to move ahead.
Someone told me of a child who actually believed that his name was ‘don’t’. Every time his mother said “Don’t do it”, he would respond thinking that it was his name. It’s not a joke but a reality in most parent–child relationships.
In most cases of communication between parents and children it is observed that for any request or demand the child puts forth, he or she is responded to with a big ‘NO’. It is actually amazing to note the number of times that we as parents use the word, ‘no’. In a child’s life, the continuous use of negative words such as this can lead to what we know as negative conditioning.
“I want to have an ice cream.” “No!”
“I want to play with my friends.” “No!”
“I want to go there.” “No!”
Everything is a big ‘NO’.
Just put yourself in your child’s shoes and see how you would feel if you got a constant ‘no’ from your parents or, for that matter, from anybody else, for anything and everything you were excited to do or have. You would feel dejected, low on self-esteem and terrible as a person. But this is exactly what we do to our children time and again.
The next probable question, therefore, is, how then can we always say ‘yes’ to everything that a child asks?
My answer to the above is ‘YES!’; one must always say ‘yes’ first instead of ‘no’, and then think of how to work around that ‘yes’ to make things happen the way you want them to happen.
When I say ‘yes’, I mean ‘being’ in the dimension of ‘yes’. Sometimes, just by avoiding the use of the words ‘no’ or ‘don’t’, we are already in the dimension of ‘yes’. We have five very systematic ways of saying ‘yes’ and still getting your way and at the same time keeping your child happy, and, most important, keeping your child away from the negativity of a ‘no’.
- Divert the child’s attention.
- Allow the child to experience first hand.
- Postpone the child’s desire.
- Lead the child to a world of fantasy and imagination.
- Handle their tantrums positively.
- diverting attention
If your child wants a balloon or, while travelling by car, insists on buying something from the hawker at the traffic signals, just divert his attention by speaking to him about something or by showing him something else so intensely, so expressively and so enthusiastically that he forgets about his demand.
This is something that most parents ordinarily do when their child is small. But don’t use it to manipulate the child. For example, you tell the child to look up at the crow and then stuff some food in his mouth. In the example I gave, you are simply diverting his attention so you need not buy some material object which you feel is unnecessary at that moment. However, when the child is older, this particular tip may or may not work but the second tip will probably work much better.
- Allow the child to experience first hand
This is the time to allow him to experience things for himself. For example, let’s look at the demand for a balloon. You must allow the child to feel the balloon, touch it, taste it, and even produce sounds of it. In short, allow him to use all his senses to experience the balloon, because many a time he may not actually want the balloon but may just want to experience the toy and understand the mechanics of how it works.
Allow the child to experience it. This is why you must take him to as many shops as possible; let him play to his heart’s content, let him be satisfied and then come out. This is how children like to have experiences, and most of the time they are reasonably satisfied. That’s why you see children trying out papa’s shirts or mummy’s big stilettos. They feel that if papa and mummy can wear, then “Why not me?” But if the child is still not satisfied, you adopt step number three.
- Postpone the desire
When the child asks you for an ice cream, you say, “Sure, you will get an ice cream, but only on Saturday”. This way you have postponed the fulfilling of his desire to Saturday. But a promise once given must be kept even if your child may have forgotten all about it. Basically, children love rules and discipline and love it most when you too abide by the same rules.
But the child may still persist. Perseverance, which parents most often term ‘stubbornness’ is one of the greatest and one of the most positive qualities of a human being. Think about it: if we, or our children, didn’t have the quality of perseverance, could we ever hope to reach high goals in life?
To be persistent is an inborn, positive quality of a child. We must learn from this quality of our child. If he is perseverant about an ice cream here, we must also be perseverant enough to say, “Sure, we will have ice cream next Saturday”.
This behaviour of ours cannot be termed arrogant or defiant. In fact, there’s a tremendous amount of love when we tell him that he will be given an ice cream on a particular day. If he still persists, then it’s time to apply the fourth step.
- Lead the child to a world of fantasy
If the child wants an ice cream, normally most parents avoid talking about ice cream, hoping that by doing this the child will forget his demand.
On the contrary, I would say that we should talk more about ice cream, every aspect of it: the intricacies of making ice cream, different kinds of ice creams and so on and so forth. We must weave a fantasy around the ice cream so as to wean the child away, naturally, from the physical fulfillment of the demand. This also increases his power of imagination.
This can be done by telling the child any interesting story which totally involves the object of desire. A story which can be told in this particular situation could be as follows:
There once was a competition between a vanilla ice cream and a chocolate ice cream. The vanilla ice cream boasted, “I am so white, and so everyone loves me. Nobody loves you because you are so dark”. The chocolate ice cream does not give up so easily. It replies,
“You may be white but everyone loves me because I am much sweeter”. Their argument goes on and they can’t agree on who is better, so they go to the elephant. The elephant says, “How can I tell unless I taste you both?” So, he tastes them both but can’t decide which is better. So he suggests that they go to the Lion… the story could go on and on, till we find that the child has got so involved in the fantasy that he has lost all interest in the ice cream he desperately wanted.
All children are persistent. As I said earlier, this is their greatest quality. You must also use the same quality with the child while leading him to the fantasy world. In doing so, you must stick to your word by being firm but not strict.
But what do you do when your child throws an absolute tantrum? Then it’s time for the fifth and the final step.
- Handle their tantrums positively
In a situation like this, hug your child, hold him tight and take him to a room. Close the room and lock it, and actively ‘be’ with your child. By ‘actively being with your child’ I mean being with the child completely; stick to your statement, and tell him that yes, you will give him an ice cream, but next Saturday, and that you do understand his feelings. Telling him that you understand his feelings makes the biggest difference. Normally, parents do a complete opposite when they say, “I care a damn, you do what you want, cry as long as you want, I will do my work”. And they get into their own cooking, cleaning etc., leaving the child to cry it out.
This makes the child feel tremendously rejected, and he feels terrible about his parents and himself; such behaviour of yours may also make the child more stubborn the next time, even rebellious on occasions. But if you are there with the child in the room, holding him, consoling him, comforting him even though he may kick you, hit you, maybe even harm you physically, you must remain patient, extremely patient, with him even as you say the same over and over to him, “I will give it to you next Saturday”.
Be firm about it, but do it with tremendous love and compassion. The key mantra is to say, “I understand what you are going through, I also have the same feelings, and maybe in your place I, too, would have felt the same”. While doing this, you should be extremely calm, your heart beat should be normal, or else your anxiety could get transmitted to the child and the situation could get even more difficult.
After a while, maybe about 10 to 15 minutes, your statements will begin to sink in. He will understand and calm down. At that time, you reiterate your promise of giving him an ice cream the following Saturday, and make sure you fulfil your promise.
After three or four such experiences, the child will begin to respect your views and at the same time be sure that his views are similarly being respected. Slowly and steadily, the tantrums will begin to settle. If you use “I understand” with your child, incidents of tantrum throwing may not even happen. Whenever you say “I understand”, always add “You may be feeling sleepy, tired, hungry …” or whatever you feel is the reason. The moment the child understands that you are at least trying to understand him, he calms down.
This is true not only of your child but also of everybody else in this world. In communication, the expression, “I understand”, is most effective. Even if said insincerely, it works, and if said sincerely, it works miracles. Who would not like to be understood? Practically everybody you communicate with wants to be understood, and when they see that you are trying your best to understand them, it works wonders in them. Apply this in your interaction with your child and leap the beautiful result of enjoying a tremendously strong emotional bond with the child.
It’s important to understand why the child persisted in his request in the first place. He could have been hungry or tired or there may have been some other reason. Make an effort to figure out a possible reason.
Remember, each time you want to say ‘no’ to a child, say ‘yes’ first and then think of how you will put it across positively to the child.
“Before doing ISP… If my daughter asked for chocolate I would have tried to restrict her by saying no… But using ISP technique, today when anyone offers her a chocolate, she takes it and says ‘I will eat it on Friday’… My mummy told me we will eat chocolates on Friday. For her, it is a game now.”
Dr Priya Bijlani, Consultant Prosthodontist. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thus, instead of being ‘no’ parents, we become ‘yes’ parents.
When you say ‘yes’, you have no ego. When you say ‘no’, you have a big ego: ‘I am bigger than you, better than you etc., and so you better listen to me’.
Saying ‘no’ should be done only in an extreme situation where the life of the child could come under threat.