Tips for making no mean no

I’ve heard to shoot for 80% of the time on a routine and 20% of the time to allow life to play out. “Feel plays” as my husband likes to call them. It’s a gorgeous night and we want to stay longer on the beach… let’s do it! French fries for lunch again today? Why not!

Of course with too many of these “feel plays,” routines can easily become a thing of the past. How many late bedtimes does it take before it just sounds silly to say the kids go to bed at 7:30? For my kids and for myself, this is something that I am constantly thinking about. Simply saying, “I like to workout” but not actually getting exercise doesn’t exactly count as workout routine.

These last few weeks we were able to spend time in New England and it was such a welcomed change. Although I love having a routine, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to step away from it and enjoy a few nights with a later bedtime (gasp!). While on the one hand I had to talk myself down seeing the kids running around at 8:00 PM, I know it was good for me, and them. So I didn’t get the trophy at the end of vacation for “consistent bedtimes” — but do I really want that trophy?

Head and Heart

My heart says no but my head says yes. Because I know the impact of too little sleep and too many late nights. Especially at almost 36 weeks pregnant, it feels like quite the steep mountain to climb once we are back home and wanting that routine back.

I listened to Janet Lansbury’s podcast, “How to Make No Mean No” and it had me thinking about this exact issue. My kids ate a lot of ice cream these last few weeks. Sometimes, I was craving it too which made my decision to say “Yes” an easy one. But sometimes the answer was no. Why was the answer sometimes no?

  • It was before a meal
  • I didn’t want it
  • I felt guilty how much sugar they were having
  • They had it the day before
  • It was morning when they were asking for it
  • It was too late and I didn’t want the sugar to keep them up
  • I don’t want them thinking they “get” ice cream every day
  • The answer was just no

For a child, I can see why this is confusing. Why does mom sometimes say yes and sometimes say no when we ask for things? The following are tips from my own experience and from Lansbury’s podcast that have helped “no mean no” and helped my kids work through the disappointment.

Pause before answering

Sometimes, an answer flies out of my mouth without me thinking. When this happen, it increases the chances that I will give an answer that isn’t well thought out. When I take even a few seconds to think about my answer first, I am able to feel more confident in my response. This makes it easier to not be influenced by the potential whining, pleading, or negotiating that comes after.

Also, this models a great strategy for your kids. By saying, “I need a minute to think about that,” I am modeling how to think before reacting. I am being honest with them by acknowledging I don’t have an answer right away. Hopefully, they will use this strategy themselves and take the time to think – not simply react when being asked to do something — like stuff a pine cone in Grace’s mouth which Keener decided WAS a good idea when a little boy at the pool suggested it 🙂

Say “no” with conviction

When you have your answer, say it and mean it. Kids pick up on tone and if they sense you are not committed to that “no,” you can almost guarantee they will push. They quickly realize that if they ask 30 times, your “no” will become a “yes.” The best quote I heard recently was something to the effect of A kid’s job is to push boundaries; a parent’s job is to hold them.

When I expect them to push, it is much easier for me to hold my ground. I know that their pushing is not going to change my answer. Another good line I use sometimes is “asked and answered.” This lets them know that they have asked and I have answered. My answer is not going to change.

Respond to disappointment with true empathy

While we are holding strong on the answer being “No,” we want to make sure we allow our kids space to be frustrated with that answer. Inevitably, they are upset they are not getting what they want. And that is ok. Let them know that you understand that isn’t the answer they want. This might sound like:

  • I know it’s frustrating to be told no. I feel that way too when I’m told no.
  • You’re disappointed.
  • Hearing “no” is hard.

The key here is not trying to “fix” their disappointment by changing your answer. Nor is it your goal to make their frustration go away. By offering true empathy, you are letting them know that you care about how they are feeling. You are also letting them know you are there to help them work through those tricky feelings, if they want your help.

If possible, name when “yes” is coming

Depending on the circumstances, you can tell them when “yes” is coming. We don’t always know when yes is coming and it is ok to be honest with our kids about that. However, we all feel better when we know what we can expect. In a similar way if you show up to Target and the store is closed, you expect to see a sign telling you when it will open. Not getting what you want, and not knowing when you will get it, isn’t a fun head space for any of us.

Of course there are times in life when the “yes” we want may never come. Which makes resilience such a powerful skill to develop in ourselves and with our kids. Challenges are going to happen – resilience is how we recover and deal with them.

Even though I didn’t come home with the consistent bedtime trophy, I will admit that those late nights and ice cream indulgences really did make the vacation. Now back to our 80%; anticipating and accepting a few bedtime battles and early morning wake ups along the way.

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