There are trends in parenting, just like there are in clothing and food. One parenting fashion that tends to cycle through periodically is the idea that saying the word “No” to a child can damage the child’s delicate psyche. While harshness in parenting is not the best idea – especially for Christian parents – the word “No” is actual a vital tool in parenting and helps – rather than harms – your child.
A quick Google search for academic studies on boundaries for children reveals no studies suggesting children are somehow healthier when allowed to have free reign, while there are many studies reinforcing the idea of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries for children. While a more extensive search may uncover a random anti-boundary study, the lack of a body of research backing the anti-boundary parenting theory means that it is based on opinions rather than actual evidence of its success – especially over long periods of time.
Which brings us back to the word “No”. The easiest way to reinforce a preset boundary with any – but especially very young children – is the word “No”. It is simple, easy for even a very young child to understand and can be said firmly, with love and still reinforce boundaries that have been set for a child. The so called gentle parenting technique of having a discussion about the issues involved in biting (for example) another 18 month old child has little impact on a child who either doesn’t understand many of the words the parent is using or whose attention span limits means the child stopped listening after the first sentence. A simple “No, we do not hit people.” is easy to understand and remember.
Rather than damaging a child’s delicate psyche, boundaries that are consistently and clearly enforced with the word “No” (and consequences if needed) instead makes children feel safe. Acceptable and unacceptable behavior is easy to understand and remember. They understand the parent is in control and can be trusted to protect them. When children feel out of control because of strong emotions, boundaries help them learn how to practice self control.
Refusing to tell a child “No” encourages the child to believe that he or she is truly the center of the universe. A sense of entitlement and selfishness begins to take root. The needs of others are ignored in the effort of the child to obtain what is wanted. Perseverance and patience are not developed. Ironically, the child can become dependent upon others bowing to his or her will for happiness and contentment. Language is often slower to develop as parents rush to appease the child at a mere whimper without expecting the child to ask politely for what is desired.
Spiritually, refusing to tell a child “No” is a disaster. While explaining why certain rules exist and are enforced can be helpful to an older child, the reality is that when God says “No” (i.e. something is a sin), He doesn’t always explain why. This is when quite a few Christians begin to struggle – particularly if they are used to having their own way in life. While grace is available to the Christian, God still expects obedience to His commands. God uses the word “No” (or not) quite often in scripture. A child raised to believe that “No” is the equivalent of a dirty word in his or her home, will struggle and quite probably fail to be obedient to God – and may not even try.
The truth is that your children will hear the word “No” quite often in life – from teachers, coaches, employers, friends, spouses and others. The childhood “No” prepares them to navigate these other circumstances well. It also teaches them how to set and reinforce their own healthy boundaries for others.
Still not convinced? When I was a child, there was a child in our church who was never told “No”. As we became annoyed with her increasingly selfish antics, my parents would tell us that it would not end well for a child who was shielded from “No”. One day she ran out into the street, ignoring her mother’s sudden, frantic “No” as a car raced towards the child. The child was hit and killed. Years later, a similar situation happened to us with our child (although she was actually crossing the street properly at the time). Except our child had been told “No” and been expected to obey – with or without an accompanying explanation. She immediately stopped and her life was spared.
You never know when your child’s life may depend upon immediate obedience to the command of someone. You don’t need to be a drill Sargent, but using the word “No”, may save your child’s life and will definitely improve the likelihood that she or he will grow up to become an active, productive, faithful Christian.