Parenting is a challenge, no doubt about it. We spend a lot of time considering each and every decision in an attempt to help our children grow up to be strong, confident individuals. We teach them how to play, how to eat, and how to be polite. We help them learn to control their toddler impulses and not jump on the sleeping pug.
How many of us teach our children to say no? Not the screaming I-just-discovered-this-word-that-gets-attention-and-I-want-to-just-spout-it-off-all-the-time, but an actual no that is the result of self-awareness. Teaching our children to say no may be something that isn’t often considered, but is a necessary skill if we hope to raise children who are confident in themselves and their personal boundaries.
My son is 2 and has his own personality. He wants to have his own space and really doesn’t like to join in with whatever everyone else is doing unless he feels comfortable. Over time, I’ve noticed that often well-meaning family members will try to convince him to play what they are playing or hug them or follow them away from what he is doing. At first, I considered that I should teach him to just be polite and do what they wanted. But in time, I realized that he is aware enough of himself to say no when he doesn’t want to participate. I’ve had a hard time letting go of my hopes for adorable photos of him loving on his little sister as far too often, it ended with him in tears because she was touching him. If I’m completely honest with myself, though, I’d rather have sweet photos because everyone is actually happy, rather than being bribed into smiling.
There’s a fine line between a polite, self-aware no and one that is whiny and unpleasant. It does take time to develop this skill, and we certainly aren’t there yet, but the main lesson I want him to learn is that he can speak up for himself. Children who have milder personalities or those who are natural-born pleasers can easily fall prey to bullying. In this world that is hyper-aware of bullying, we can often forget that some of the worst offenders are adults: teachers forcing the issue of a differing worldview, a coach demanding too much, or a grandparent who disproves of the choices you’ve made as a parent.
Saying no is a hard task for many people, me included. Far too often, I find myself wishing that I had stood up for my decision or not buckled to the pressure of people who do not live my life but still choose to have an outspoken opinion on it. I hope that by teaching my children to say no when they feel pressured or uncomfortable, I’ll be saving them a good deal of drama later in life. For me, I want my children to live a life they are committed to; regardless of career, religion, or creed. I want them to be proud of who they are, even if it means telling me no and making a decision I wouldn’t.