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Monday, February 11, 2013

Let Your No be No

In an all too familiar scene, a harried parent is trying to wrap up her grocery shopping while her five-year-old is hassling her for a highly advertised sugar-coated cereal.

She says No. He puts it in the grocery cart anyway.

Mother again says No, and returns it to its place.

“But this is the cereal I like,” he pouts,  “and it’s what Bobby (a favorite cousin) likes! I won’t eat any other kind!” and tosses it back in the cart.

Once more mother says No, emphatically this time, and places it back on the shelf.

This time Junior yells, “But I want this kind! You have to get it for me!” and grabs the box and heads for the checkout line.

Mother, who has now reached her breaking point, dashes toward her son, yanks him by the arm and yells at him (for yelling).

But Junior has learned not to give up easily. He goes into dramatic meltdown, resulting in an angry mom shaking and threatening him, “I’m never taking you shopping with me again, ever!”

All to no avail. Son is crying uncontrollably, mom is desperate.

Finally, she bargains. “O.K., Just this one time. But only if you promise never, ever to act this way again. Understand?”

Child nods, half whimpering, half grinning.

Chalk up another win for Junior.

What part of "No" don’t children understand?  Or is the real problem that we parents (and grandparents) don’t understand how to say take a firm position with our children and teens?

Back in August of 2007 more than a dozen Minnesota parents, educators and health organizations sponsored full page newspaper ads launching a “Say Yes to No” campaign across the state. The program offered explanations and examples based on the book “NO: Why Kids – of All Ages Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It,” by David Walsh, president of the Media and the Family Institute.

“Parents have been looking for solutions... for a long time,” says Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, president of the Minnesota PTA. “Say Yes to No will give parents and educators answers and tactics that put them back into control of their homes and classrooms.”

Sounds good in theory, and maybe in our homes, but what about our grocery store scenario?

Here’s how an effective No might have worked:

Child protests, “But this is the cereal I like! I won’t eat any other kind!” etc.

Mother gets on her child’s eye level, arms on his shoulders, “I know you want this, but we don’t use that kind of cereal at our house.” (Respectful but absolutely firm position)

“But Mom, that’s the only cereal I like!”

“I hear you, but we don’t use this kind of cereal at our house.” (broken record restatement, still on his eye level)

“But Mom...”

“Remember, we don’t use this kind of cereal at our house. You can either stop begging, or we’ll go to the car right now for a time-out. If you don’t cooperate, you'll go to your sitter’s, and mommy will finish the shopping and go to the Taco Barn this time without you. It’s up to you.” End of discussion, mother rises for action.

Of course, she could have taken her son out and smacked him instead of giving him a firm, no-nonsense consequence. But that would be over in a harsh and heated instant, whereas removing him from the store, enforcing a five-minute time-out in his car seat (time doesn’t start until he cooperates), and bringing an abrupt end to the fun of shopping--and eating out with his mom--delivers a lesson that can keep on teaching for a long time.

And in case you’re wondering, there are worse things than leaving a shopping cart in the grocery aisle.

Like not doing whatever is necessary to teach Junior what No means.
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