A lot of parenting and parenting advice revolves around saying no. No, you cannot open that cupboard. No, you cannot watch tv right now. No, you may not hit your brother on the head with a book, even if he’s laughing. No, you cannot have a lollipop. No, not chocolate milk either. No no no no no.
That’s part of the job. The kid’s job is figuring out what they can and cannot do. Flying – nope. Jumping on my bed – only at my house. Building with tinkertoys – yes. Your job is to make sure that the results of their experimentation are non-fatal and comply with the rules of your house.
As a parent, you get in the habit of saying no. And you spend a lot of time working with your children to handle “no” in an acceptable way. You start with tantrums and crying (that’s where we are with Mr. I Find Cat Food Delicious Thane), move on to (in our case) stomping and pouting, and eventually try to get towards a graceful “ok”.
In the process, you stop remembering WHY you say no. You get in the habit of no. You work so hard on acceptable post-no behaviors, that you forget that your job as a parent is NOT actually to make sure your children don’t get anything they want. It is, actually, ok to say yes to things they want, especially when they ask for them in an appropriate manner.
That may sound like an “oh duh” but that was one of my revelations recently. I’d gotten in the habit of “no”, for no good reason. Really, is it going to kill my son to get that 15 calorie candy cane? (Let’s not discuss how I still have candy canes for Christmas, eh? It actually supports my thesis that I don’t end up giving my children nearly as many treats as they’d like.) I like giving my son treats, but I don’t actually like letting him have them.
So now I’m trying to teach Grey how to ask for things in a way which delight the asked and are more likely to result in him getting what he wants. I’m trying to teach him effective, polite strategies for obtaining his heart’s desire. Obviously, he can’t always have it “Mom, may I please, please, pleeeeeeeaaaaase withsugarontop have my own car?”. But the goal of parenting is not to convince children never to want anything, and it’s not to make sure they know their desires will never be fulfilled. I need to be teaching my son good ways to get what he wants (within reason) in a way that is pleasant and satisfying for all involved — and to say “thank you” afterwards.