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“No” is a Safety Word for Kids

February 20, 2020

The truth is, when it comes to child behavior, we do need 100% compliance at times. The child must listen and do as told.

This isn’t a power and control issue. The issue is safety.

When you child runs between two parked cars or is about to touch a hot stove or make a horrendous decision, this is not the times to negotiate or offer alternatives. This is the time to say no and for the child to heed the demand.

If your strategy for managing child behavior relies primarily on negotiation, then expect everything to be a debate.

One must ask oneself, how such a view, held by the child will work at school, on a sports team or in the workplace.

So yes, there is a time and place for negotiation and a time and place for the expectation of compliance.

Wisdom is appreciating and differentiating when either applies.


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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice

  1. Hello,

    I appreciate your writing very much and have often saved posts for future reference.

    This one calls for comment.

    As a single mother of two lively girls I developed an unusual strategy quite the opposite of what you seem to be suggesting this time.

    I tried to avoid saying “no” and to let them learn from their mistakes. This meant letting them go out without a coat in winter or eating all their Halloween candy in one sitting. They only did these things once, maybe twice. Yes, there are times when a “no” is necessary, but not as often as one might imagine.

    If they wanted to do something I thought was unwise I asked them to explain why. And they did. Sometimes that discussion convinced them change their minds or wait for later. Yes, everything was a debate and what good debates they were! They now have well practiced research, reasoning, and negotiating skills. I didn’t teach them, I didn’t have time. They learned for themselves because they needed those skills.

    You ask how this might work out in school, or on sports teams. Quite well actually. Good instructors appreciate a good debate and welcome research. The ability to think and strategize is valued on any team and in the workplace.

    When the girls were in high school other parents used to ask me for parenting advice and I suggested not trying to control them so much, try saying no less often. They said it wouldn’t work, but it did for me. Maybe this was because I did it from the beginning.

    • That is all reasonable and quite aligned with the wisdom of knowing the difference. Still, what of a child running between parked cars or about to touch about stove? Are these times for discussion? Therein is the need to appreciate compliance. Some kids don’t respond when it truly might be necessary.

      • Yes, of course, there are times for this quick and strong intervention. And some kids are slower than others to pick things up.

        I just see “no!” being used quite often in situations where it’s not necessary, and at the expense of both the child and the parents.

        Thanks again for some very thoughtful and helpful writing.

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