I don’t know if this term has been officially coined yet, but can you guess what I mean by “auto-no”? How about when I say, one of the most pervasive problems I see in parenting strategies across the board is parental reliance on (or addiction to) the “auto-no”?
Well – I’m not trying to be mysterious or anything – what I am referring to is the tendency most parents have to seriously over-use the word “No”. Most parents get so hyper-focused on keeping their kids’ behaviors in check that “No” becomes the single most common word they utter to their children. Most parents will curtly say “No” to their children multiple times each day without even thinking about it. And as it turns out, most parents are making a mistake giving themselves over to the “auto-no”.
I keep saying “most parents” for two reasons. On the one hand, there are some parents out there who don’t say “No” every time their kid moves. There are some parents who actually consider the request, or motion, the child is making, and actually decide in the moment whether or not it is appropriate for the current time and place. It’s true! There are even some parents who don’t say “No” nearly enough – though it is worth pointing out that this particular group is microscopic compared to the others, thanks in part to our cultural fear of permissiveness, no doubt.
The second reason for the repeated reference to “most parents” is to underscore the commonplace occurrence of the phenomenon, and the pervasiveness of auto-no parenting. It actually is what the majority of parents I have seen end up doing the majority of the time. And just the sheer number of “No’s” that so many parents are uttering everyday makes auto-no one of the least functional strategies in the parenting universe.
Some of the more common effects of the auto-no include:
Escalation – You will find that the more you use “No”, the less effective it is, and the more necessary it becomes to increase the power, seriousness, and/or number of times you say it for it to have the previous effect. This tendency will continue until threats and or some other coercive methods are necessary. And will likely continue to worsen beyond that.
Resistance – This is the other side of the proverbial coin from Escalation. This is what your child will do as you escalate. And the more you attempt to keep the lid tightly in place, the more the child will feel the need to make that impossible for you. I think of this one as the parenting version of Isaac Newton’s “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”
Urge-Purge – Yes, it is a rather distasteful term, I’ll admit, but I bet you won’t forget it. And the point is an important one – worthy of being graphically imprinted into your minds.<< Your kids WANT to explore AND play!!! >>They need to be given the opportunity to do so for the largest part of every single day, at least until the age of 7 or so. If you don’t let them do that most of the time, the energy behind that drive will have to find other ways to get out. Imagine this like the pivotal moment when you have the ability to keep Bruce Banner from turning into the Incredible Hulk by a single gentle allowance. Your child may not actually erupt into a green monster, but if she winds up feeling continually thwarted by you (especially in such a powerful drive, so vital to proper development, and happiness) there’s a splendid chance that she’ll see you as a hulking menace. By the way, that’s pretty bad for your relationship…
Anxiety – You may think I am referring here to the child again, but I’m referring to the parents’ anxiety level. The more you build your life and your relationship with your child(ren) around the use of the word “No”, the more pressure you will feel to protect the borderlines. Suddenly, you aren’t a parent any more, you are a warden, and as I intimated above, the more you treat them like criminals, the more they will rise to meet or exceed your expectations. You will enjoy parenting a lot less if this is your primary state.
Under-development – There is now good evidence that the auto-no, and its companion warden-like behavior, actually thwart the natural development of children’s ability to self-regulate. Instead of “teaching them discipline”, and how to respect boundaries, and/or “who’s boss”, we are instead teaching them that they need us to tell them when and when not to do something. You may think, “That’s just fine by me!” But they are designed to learn how to regulate themselves eventually — unless we mess up that process by keeping them so locked down that they can’t find their own boundaries. This sort of dynamic results in things like eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance abuse and addiction… you get the picture.
SO. Do you want to try something different? Something radical? How about this idea for starters, compliments of Alfie Kohn’sUnconditional Parenting: every time your child asks you if s/he can do something, think (just for a moment) about the request. Think — before you say “No” — “Why am I saying ‘No’?”. And then, answer that question before you do or say anything else. Just take long enough to figure out why you are saying “No” before you say it.
Also – If you don’t have a reason for it, or don’t really like that reason, you could try saying “YES!” instead. It’s easier than you think. But more on that later.