It’s Okay to Say No (Even if you’re a kid)

We were playing at the pool one day recently when several adult family members stopped by. One of them directed my son to demonstrate how he recently learned to jump into the deep end. My son said, “We’re in the middle of a game. I can’t right now.” So the adult said to the cousin he was playing with, “You show how you can jump in.” And she went right away without comment and climbed out and jumped in. And I understood it. Because it’s what I would have done (and been expected to do) as a kid.

I fully support my son’s right to defend his play. He wasn’t rude. We’d never question an adult who said “I’m in the middle of something, but will be with you when I’m done.” As an adult who has a lot of difficulty speaking up for myself and saying no, it is actually a skill I am working hard to help my children develop.

“The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.” Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason

I’ve realized something recently as well. As much as we support our kids in their learning to voice their opinions, say no, and stand up for themselves, one of my kids has a much easier time doing it than the other. I can’t really take credit for doing more than not squashing this instinct that he was born with. It is who he is. He bravely stands up for the choices he makes and for what he feels is fair. We’ve surrounded him with situations and people who have supported him in that endeavor, like his wonderful preschool teachers. But a lot comes down to who he is, his personality, and his temperament.

I thought we had it all figured out and were really doing something right—ha! And now my daughter is old enough to be in similar situations. And she’s asking a lot more questions about what other people would like her to do. She has a lot harder time making decisions. She is a very sensitive child, definitely a highly sensitive person (HSP), but in a very different way than my son. Other skills, such as sharing and empathizing, coming easier to her. She reminds me so very much of me. And I’m realizing that we will see over the next few years if the supports we’ve put in place help her to develop confidence in her skills as well. Our own nature vs. nurture experiment. But I’m doing everything I can to support nurture.

“We learn to do something by doing it.  There is no other way.”  John Holt

I want my children to know themselves better than I knew myself. I also want them to be able to express their interests and beliefs with confidence, as well as to stand up for themselves when those beliefs are challenged. So I’ll support them in practicing now.  There’s no better time to start.

One thought on “It’s Okay to Say No (Even if you’re a kid)”

  1. I love that you give them support to say no to adults! Some adults are really rude to kids, expecting a kid to obey as soon as instructions are issued. It isn’t rude to say, “just a minute” or “I’m almost done.” I say those things to my children all the time. It’s okay for them to say those things, too!
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