How to Stop Being a “No” Strategy Parent

by Sean Grover

Are you dishing out “No” to your kid without thought or consideration?  Time to hit the Parenting Pause Button

“Poppa, can I have some apple pie?”

A simple question.  But have you ever tried to reason with a four-year-old around five a.m. on a snowy winter’s morning? Especially when there’s no apple pie in the house?

Gloomily, I employed my “No” strategy, an approach many parents are familiar with.  A firm “No” followed by any number of sad laments such as:  “No means no” or the ever-fashionable “Because I said so.” And…well, you get the picture.

“Go back to sleep.” I grunted. “We don’t have any apple pie.”

“Poppa, please.”

The determined child persisted, poking her head under my blanket.

“Hellooooo Poppa.”

Finally, I finally pushed my pillow aside and staggered zombie-like into the kitchen.  Plan B. Show her that we don’t have any apple pie and so I can quickly return to bed.

“Take a good look,” I said, triumphantly holding open the refrigerator doors.
“No apple pie.” She opened the produce draw and pulled out a lone apple.

“You can’t make an apple pie from just one apple.”

“Yes, you can.”

“No, really, you can’t.”

“Yes, really, you can.”

I decide to employ another familiar parental strategy:  the Failure Strategy.  Let the kid fail and learn a lesson so I can maintain my sense of superiority.

“You know how to make an apple into an apple pie?”

“Yes.”

“Ok.  Show me.”

Without missing a beat, she places her hands firmly on her hips and explains, “First you peel the apple. Then cut it up. Then you put it into a bowl. Then you add crunchy stuff and sugar. Then you put it in the oven.”

Oy!

After a quick call to Grandma Grover for advice (we woke her up, too), we scoured the kitchen cabinets, came up with graham crackers, brown sugar, raisins and a small baking tin.

Within 30 minutes, the elatedly child, victorious in her quest, sat eating her tiny apple pie at her tiny table and tiny chair, while her tiny father reflected on his tiny behavior.

Optimism defeats pessimism. The kind of thing I’ve written about, spoken about and spent nearly a lifetime advocating to my psychotherapy patients. Clearly, I wasn’t practicing what I preached; my “No” strategy was an epic failure.

I wonder how often an easy “No” policy blinds me from more creative solutions? What am I teaching my daughter with my knee-jerk negativity?

Saying “No” to something new is the easiest thing in the world.  It’s quick and easy and doesn’t cost you a dime, but it slams the door on new experiences and possibilities.  Sure, it may feel gratifying in the moment, but in the long run it, forfeits personal growth for low-cost comfort.

Children make easy targets for the “No” strategy.  We say “No” to them all the time. “No, you can’t stay up late.”  “No, you can’t see that movie.”  Many of those “Nos” are necessary; every good parent has to make unpopular decisions.  Are we overusing that word though? Are we just taking the easy way out?

As a teenager once said to me, “What’s with adults? Everything is ‘No’ this, ‘No’ that.  I guess when you grow up, you forget what it’s like to be a kid.”

The most harmful negative forces our kids face often aren’t found in the world at large.  They come from their parents’ disapproving voices; voices that promote doubt and defeat whenever a kid wants to try something new.  A “No” without consideration or thought robs our kids of opportunities and demonstrates how little we trust them.

Reflecting on my behavior that morning, I felt ashamed. But I also felt pride in my daughter; she didn’t give up.  Her positive determination soundly defeated my negative strategy.  I may have failed, but she won. And boy, I’m glad she did.

So, the next time you find yourself dishing out “No” without thought or consideration, hit the pause button.  Take a moment and ask yourself: Is there room for another response?  Can I extend myself just a little bit more for my kid and keep an open mind?

You may be surprised what you discover. Saying “Yes” could take your relationship in an entirely new direction. You may stumble into a magical world of possibilities that you never knew existed. I certainly did. Before my very eyes, my daughter turned a single apple into an apple pie, and a cold winter morning into a golden memory.  www.seangrover.com

Filed under Perspectives