Saying “no” to your child can be a very difficult thing to do, especially when the child in question is demanding and won’t rest until they hear that golden word, “yes”.
And often it is easier to acquiesce and give in rather than go through the pantomime of discipline when all involved know you are only going to hold out for as long as you can, before the irritating persistence becomes intolerable.
I see it in my clinic and I see it in my personal life as a father of three beautiful, yet demanding, young girls.
At times the easier life is the more attractive road to traverse, but it is a short cut designed to take you on a far more sinuous and problematic route.
Because giving into your child’s every whim will only ensure that your child is utterly unhappy. I see the fallout of this type of permissive parenting so often in the therapeutic setting.
And not as you may think with children but I see the results of this kind of parenting in young adults.
Young couples come into the clinic seeking help because one member of the couple is finding it nearly impossible to compromise. They generally delineate the same story; a childhood marked by over protection and over indulgence.
I hear them as they describe their childhood where their every whim was satiated, where they never had to experience the consequences of their actions and relied on their parents for everything.
And now, as adults, they are struggling to come to terms with the adult world where demands are being placed on them by their partner and there is an expectation on them to be able to meet those demands and yet they cannot and this is causing huge tension in the relationship.
It can be difficult to watch as an adult comes to terms with the harsh truth that the world will not shape around them like their childhood did and that their parents utterly unprepared them for the realities of the adult world.
I think the reason why my generation of parents are so slow to say no to their children is because they fundamentally believe that to be a good parent you must shield your child from every negative interactions.
I think this is born as a corollary to the way they were parented. What I mean by this is that modern parents, in my experience, may have felt their feelings were not validated or they did not receive much in the way of material things during their formative years, so they have decided to give their children everything they feel they missed out on as children.
Often when we are motivated like this we bring about the very outcome we are striving to ameliorate. For example, the parent that wants to make their children feel like their feelings and emotions are being validated actually bring about the opposite outcome by over validating every little feeling.
Similarly, when we say yes all the time we are creating the situation where our children will never be able to enjoy anything.
I’m not talking about a spoilt child here, but a child who does not have the capacity to enjoy anything because they have come to expect everything.
When I talk to parents about this idea I am often reminded of the poem ‘Advent’ by Patrick Kavanagh. He has a wonderful line in the poem; ‘Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder’. How true it is.
When we give into everything our children ask for, when we meet their every demand, we are in fact taking away the potential for them to see the wonder in life.
In short, we are doing them such a disservice. And while it may be coming from a good place on the parent’s part it is essential for their child’s future happiness that they learn the importance of saying no.
One of the most significant insights we can come to as parents is understanding that our children need to experience a level of adversity.
We must not try to shield them from every negative aspect of the world but in fact show them how to manage adversity when it does arrive. Saying ‘yes’ to everything your child asks for only develops anunrealistic expectation of the world and how it will shape around your child to suit them.
And we all know that is not going to happen in the adult world.
The real gift is to teach our children how to manage their feelings when they hear ‘no’ which in turn will teach them how to appreciate all the wonder that comes into their lives.