Have you ever found as a parent that your kids will ask for something, and you’ll reflexively say no? Or, you’ll say yes, but then arbitrarily limit their request to something “more reasonable”?
Of course, there are times when we need to limit our kids’ choices to keep them safe and healthy. But there are other situations where we limits their boundaries unnecessarily.
Maybe you’re getting ready to go outside — putting clothes and shoes and hats and coats on — and it’s taking forever. Just when you’re ready to depart, your son wants to switch to a different pair of shoes. Even though it wouldn’t cause any harm, it’s already taken forever to get ready, so you say no, you can’t switch to another pair of shoes.
Maybe your child wants to bring 5 stuffed animals along to the grocery store. You worry it’s going to be a hassle, and maybe your kid has been a pain all day and you just don’t feel like accommodating the request, so you say no, or maybe set an arbitrary limit on the number of stuffed animals.
Many times, our kids can see through these arbitrary limits. Sometimes, they will throw a tantrum because LIFE IS SO UNFAIR.
What’s the best way to handle these requests and still maintain some sanity? I follow a simple thought process that I like to call selfish parenting.
1. Default to yes.
If your child wants something, try to have your default answer be yes. Yes, you can bring 5 stuffed animals to the store. Yes, you can change to a different pair of shoes.
Sometimes as parents we’re having a tough day, and our default starts to become NO, even for the smallest requests. Often, we’re having a tough day because our kids are driving us nuts, which makes it easier to justify a default of no.
Instead, try a default of yes, even if you’re having a bad day or your kids are being a pain. You’ll feel more relaxed.
2. When you say no, be selfish.
Sometimes, you need to say no. But before you do, ask yourself, “What do I need?” Whatever the answer is, use that in your response.
No baby, you can’t play with that power saw, because I need to keep you safe.
No, you can’t bring 5 stuffed animals to the grocery store, because I need to do the shopping without worrying some cherished animals will get lost.
No, you can’t switch shoes, because I need to get the shopping done and get back before dinnertime, and we don’t have extra time right now.
This works for two reasons. First, it helps you clarify your own objections. Sometimes, you might not even be sure why you’re objecting to something. I know this happens to me anyway — I say no, sometimes without really understanding why I’m saying it.
Asking yourself what you need is a really quick way to gain clarity.
Second, this helps your child understand why you’re saying no. They understand needs. When you tell them what you need, they’re more likely to understand.
They may not like your answer. They may even still throw a fit, but in my experience that happens less often, because they understand clearly where you’re coming from.
You might also find they come up with an alternative solution that does meet your needs. They’re pretty creative when given the opening.