There are so many memes and inspirational quotes on social media telling you to say yes to new things and new opportunities. These completely fit in with how I have lived most of my life. I’ve said yes to jobs I’m woefully underqualified for. When one interviewer asked me why I thought I should get the job as I didn’t have any experience I confidently replied, “It can’t be that hard, you can learn most things in three days.” I was offered the job, said yes and then said yes to every promotion and embraced the inevitable anxiety dreams as part of life. I said yes to a modelling job in Venice with a man called Tommy Dollar (and had to escape with the help of my mum’s credit card) I said yes to unsuitable boyfriends, I say yes to every social engagement, even if I don’t feel like going out because of my intense fear of missing out or FOMO if you’re under whatever age passes for young. Yes is the word that leads to new things, adventures and stories to tell.
I said yes to seeing the marvellously funny Sarah Millican on tour and she has a small part about feeling comfortable with saying ‘No’ and not feeling guilty about it. After the show she was giving away little badges with the word ‘No’ written on and I took one, pinned it to my coat and thought no more about it.
Other people noticed it, mostly children and the ladies at the supermarket checkout, they would ask me, “What are you saying no to?” “I got it from Sarah Millican, ask her, she’s brilliant, but quite dirty, I like her.” I would mumble in reply. I noticed that people with clipboards were less likely to approach me and far fewer people asked me for directions.
I started to think about the word ‘no’ and when I used it most and realised that it was pretty much only to my children. I hardly ever say it to a grown up, if I don’t want something to happen I will fudge around the subject, make an excuse, negotiate. The only people who get a distinct ‘no’ sometimes shouted, sometimes accompanied by a menacing look, are those little people I love most.
I tell them no when they are about to do something dangerous; when they want to got to bed later; when they are about to behave badly in a restaurant; when they want to give up a hobby because its got a bit difficult; when they ask for anything in a shop that we didn’t plan to buy. I realised how strict I was when I had been working long hours and hadn’t spent much time with them, they asked for some tat that was tantalisingly cluttering up the supermarket checkout and out of guilt I said yes. They were utterly speechless and so well behaved for the rest of the day they obviously thought I was ill.
Is this good for them? I’m I going to give them a negativity complex? Are they going to grow up thinking they must obey orders? I sometimes explain the reasons for my command but most of the time I would expect them to work it out by themselves. I dug out some of the childcare books I still had to see if I’d done it all wrong.
Many books recommend giving a child choice when they become toddlers, “You can wear the red top or the stripy top” to make the child feel like they have some control. Myself and most of my NCT group started motherhood following this advice. It worked with my son but had been completely unnecessary as he couldn’t care less what he wore and would just shrug. Then my daughter came along:
“You can wear the red top or the stripy top.”
“I want sparkly dress”
“But we’re going to the park. You’ll have more fun if you’re in leggings and a top.”
“Sparkly dress.” Sits down and folds arms.
“It’s cold outside you need to wrap up.”
Red face shouting, “Sparkly dress!”
“Grandma bought you that for special occasions, it was very expensive so you wouldn’t want to rip it when you’re playing. You can have the red top or the stripy one, the choice is yours.”
Massive melt down, brother going up the wall because he needs to run, wrestle small girl into appropriate clothes, late for the park, crashes into lunch time, throws nap out, two grumpy toddlers and me totally on edge.
So I started a different approach.
“Here are your clothes put them on, we’re going to the park.”
“I want sparkly dress.”
“No, you’re wearing these.”
Cry, whinge, realise mum’s not giving in and you have no choice, get dressed, go to the park and have lots of fun. Soon the crying and whinging part stopped. It wasn’t that I had won, we as a family had won, we could leave the house without a great big negotiation.
I recently had the privilege of working with six and seven year old children and got to watch their playtimes and relationships grow. Some children are genuinely surprised when they have to join in and do something they don’t like, usually in PE or singing. They usually have a choice and have never had to do something they do not want to do without a bribe.
The steepest learning curve is the playground. I’ve seen children apoplectic because another child doesn’t want to play ‘their game’. For some children it can be quite a shock to meet people who do not love you and will not meet your needs but would like to be your friend.
Parents who have been giving a choice rather than saying ‘no’ may find they’re still going through the terrible twos at four. It’s not too late to give this clear, simple instruction it just might take longer to sink in. (Quick note: This won’t necessarily work for children with additional needs, you’ll need a whole different set of strategies)
Anyway, after analysing my use of the word ‘no’ I have decided just to keep it for my children. There is literally no social occasion I won’t enjoy once I’m there and I weirdly miss being approached by strangers. So, I have removed my badge and I’m more than happy to direct you to the nearest betting shop.