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Want Happy and Healthy Kids? Learn to Say "No!"


By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

When asked what they want for their kids, many parents respond, “I just want them to be happy and healthy.” Such a simple, harmless, laudable goal!

And yet, such an orientation frequently results in parents giving their kids too much stuff, too many experiences, at too early an age. The upshot: These kids become more harpy than happy. Rather than feeling grateful for what they’ve been given, they feel resentful that their every whim has not been satisfied.

So, next time you have a desire to give your kids whatever they want, curb your enthusiasm. Otherwise, you might end up with unappreciative, unhappy children who have trouble coping with the inevitable ups and downs of life. Such kids have low frustration tolerance. They can’t make choices. They want it all. They have an exaggerated sense of entitlement. And they become expert at nagging, begging, and exhausting their parents till they get what they want.

So, if this pattern has already taken hold in your household and you sincerely want to curb it, here’s what you need to do.

Say “NO!” Being told “no” by a parent helps a child build character, establish values and set limits. Remind yourself that when you say "no" to your child (and mean it), you’re teaching your child an important lesson in reality.

But some parents claim that they don't know how to say "no" to their kid. If that describes you, here are a few ways to do it:

  1. A “no” can be loving, as in “No honey, you’ve had enough to eat for now.”
  2. A “no” can be blunt, as in “No, I won’t buy that for you.”
  3. A "no" can be accompanied with an explanation, as in “No, I just bought you a new video game last week.”
  4. A “no” can suggest an alternative, as in “No, this pair of sneakers is too expensive but this other one looks great and costs less."
  5. A “no” can even be completely old fashioned, as in “No, because I’m the parent and I said so.”

To make this new approach work, you first must believe that giving your kids whatever they want is not the description of a good parent.

Second, you need to appreciate that just because you can afford to buy your kids an item doesn't mean that it’s a wise idea for you to do so.

Third, if your child becomes overly demanding avoid caving in, thereby rewarding bad behavior. Let him be frustrated. Let her have a temper tantrum. Let him try to make you feel guilty. Let her be angry. Let them think you are the worst parent ever. Be strong. Stick to your guns. Do not be blackmailed by fits of temper or relentless rage.

Fourth, find other, more creative ways to connect with your child. Do things together which you both enjoy. Ask open-ended or multiple choice questions to discover how your child thinks.

Examples of such questions are:

  • When do you think a parent should say “no?”
  • Do you ever say “no” to yourself?
  • What makes you happy, not just for the moment, but really happy?
  • What's so difficult about waiting to get what you want?

If your child gives you a response (instead of just shrugging his shoulders, and muttering “I don’t know”), respect his opinions. Don't get into a tug-of-war over the “right answer.”

It's much too easy in our affluent society to over-indulge our kids. If you think this is a blessing, think again.

Copyright © 2017: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin is a psychologist and personal coach in private practice who specializes in helping people enrich their lives, enhance their relationships and overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. For more information about her work, contact her by email or visit her website at PsychWisdom.
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