Journey of No Return

Kids ask a lot of questions. Nobody would argue with that. Children have a lot of wants. It's natural. They're kids. But sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires.

Does this scene sound familiar?

Allie: Mommy, can I run through the sprinklers?

Betty: No, not today, Sweetie.

(Seconds pass.)

Allie: Mommy, can I go to Tracy's house?

Betty: No, not right now.

Allie: Can I go tomorrow?

Betty: No, we're busy.

(Tick, tock. Tick, tock.)

Allie: Mommy, can I wear my swimsuit all day?

Betty: No, you need to wear real clothes.

(More time passes.)

Allie: Mommy, can I have a snack?

Betty: No.

Allie: Can I go outside?

Betty: No.

Allie: Can we get a dog?

Betty: No.

Allie: A cat?

Betty: No.

Allie: A bird?

Betty: No.

Allie: A hamster?

Betty: No.

It looks like Betty has crossed over into the point of "no" return. Anything that Allie asks for, Mom's ready with a no.

Dr. James Dobson says Betty is like a lot of parents.

"We could answer affirmatively to many of these requests," Dr. Dobson says. "But we choose almost automatically to respond in the negative."

The reasons for parents' no's are numerous:

  • We don't have the time to think about it.
  • The activity could cause extra work or strain in our lives.
  • The request is dangerous.
  • The timing is bad.
  • Kids ask for a thousand favors a day, so it's more convenient to refuse them all.

While responding in the negative is natural, Dr. Dobson encourages parents to look at each request individually.

Decisions like getting a pet, of course, need to be carefully discussed as a family. Weighing these major choices has to be done over time, so children will often get a no.

"Every child needs to be acquainted with denial of some of his or her more extravagant wishes," Dr. Dobson explains. "But there is also a need for parents to consider each request on its own merit."

Running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day, for example, is something that should not be so easily dismissed. Kids are kids for only a few precious years, so this time should be savored and enjoyed as much as possible. How about postponing the trip to the grocery store as you join your child running through the water?

Dr. Dobson points to the advice that Fitzhugh Dodson gives in his book How to Father.

"Analyze how your child sees you: Is 99 percent of your role one in which you are expecting something of him, reminding him to do something, scolding him to stop doing something, or getting after him for misbehaving?," Dodson asks. "If so, you are not building a deep positive emotional relationship. He needs time with you when you are not demanding anything from him, time when the two of you are mutually enjoying yourselves. And he especially needs this time in the first five years of his life."

Very few parents look back and say, "I'm sure glad our cupboards were always stocked." But many look back and say they missed out on some opportunities to build memories with their kids.

"There are so many necessary no's in life," Dr. Dobson sums up, "that we should say yes whenever we can."

Background Information

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

It just seems barbaric to cause pain to a defenseless child. Is it healthy to spank him or her?

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