Family psychologist discusses reasons behind parents’ difficulty setting limits and saying the word no along with the positive functions such limits provide.
Parents often struggle with saying no to their kids. What makes this word so hard to say or carry through lies in the emotions this tiny word has the power to evoke.
The word no can create feelings of disappointment. After all, the child who hears a no is not getting something they want. Also, it may be psychologically difficult to separate a no from a general feeling of rejection. The parent who intuitively understands this connection between a no and disappointment or rejection may find it very hard to say it to their kids. As a result, the word no may be all too easy to avoid.
Although hearing no will likely create feelings of disappointment, it is possible to help yourself and your child separate the no from feelings of rejection. Explaining that it means the child cannot have their way, it does NOT mean they are not loved. Taking repeated opportunities to claim how the no is separate from love or acceptance may help remove feelings of rejection from the word or the limits it creates.
Another reason saying no can be challenging is parents’ desire to avoid power struggles, tantrums, or the child’s wrath. Handling disappointment requires the development of coping skills. Since pre-school and elementary school aged kids typically do not have these coping skills, they are not yet able to deal well with disappointment. So, the word no is likely to trigger behavior aimed at both expressing frustration and getting what is desired. A child’s negative reaction to a no means they are angry, frustrated, disappointed, or all of the above. All of these are feelings they need to experience in order to learn how to manage them.
As many parents can attest, children’s unreasonable demands and consequent fights often occur at the most inopportune moments. It is often around transitions from one fun activity to another, like between television and bedtime or home and leaving for school, that unreasonable child demands surface. Choices include fight and become late or say yes and move on to bed or work or wherever peace lies. If saying no can wreak such havoc and delays, it may not be the preferred choice.
If avoiding saying no to kids’ requests is a way to avoid feelings of disappointment, rejection, and power struggles, the probable result is that yes is being used more than is desirable. Although this may make kids happy they are getting their way, it is also causing more problems for parents and kids in the long run.
First, kids may not be getting enough opportunity to learn how to cope with disappointment. Life throws kids a lot of limits outside the home. However, children who hear yes a lot may develop unrealistic expectations of their world and not know how to deal well with disappointments that arise. This may result in crying and tantrums where they are hearing no more frequently. Also, if kids often hear yes at home, it will make it more likely they will rebel even more fiercely whenever they do hear a no at home or elsewhere.
Children need to be told no in order to understand boundaries and develop reasonable expectations of themselves, parents, teachers, and peers. In reality, no serves the very positive function of equipping kids to handle life’s limits and disappointments.
The copyright of the article Setting Limits for Kids in Child Psychology is owned by Psychology. Permission to republish Setting Limits for Kids in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.