Like a great annoying parent, Eskom said, “NO – you can’t have the lights on whenever you want!” Just as kids who want what they can’t have, us adults have also been dished out our fair share of NO’s lately. Then last week we were meant to have Load Shedding at 8 pm. But the time slot came and went and the lights stayed on. I should have been relieved right? Yet it made me anxious? In the midst of all the political chaos, I needed to know that the ‘NO to electricity’ was consistent and planned. Not having the lights turned off when they said they would (should have felt like a small victory) but instead it felt unnerving. This got me thinking about the importance of NO’s and why they are crucial to our emotional well being.

NO’s are complicated

I’m very good at the “Don’t run in the street because of cars” kind-of-NO. The NO’s that are about life and death are easy. But all the other NO’s like “Can I have an extra 15 minutes of screen time?” are almost always followed by a stab of guilt. They are somehow more complicated. In these times it is important to take a moment and consider these five reasons why a hard NO can be deceptively liberating when it comes to raising smart and resilient little humans:

1. Feeling discomfort is necessary

It can be so difficult seeing our kids in pain. Even if it is caused by not getting a third helping of cake. The discomfort is palpable and often tugs on our own unmet needs. But being uncomfortable is a very constructive lesson. Life is going to be filled with harsh “you-can’t-have-this” realities along the way. But instead of embracing this lesson, as parents we often choose to be lenient. As if this somehow makes up for what we can’t fix tomorrow. Truth is those smaller well-managed disappointments along the way actually help our children flex their ‘discomfort muscles’. So that when the bigger stuff does happen down the line, they instinctively understand that they can’t always get everything they want. Like that boy she likes, or that grandparent who can’t live forever.

2. Send the message “I am ok with ALL your feelings.”

Another important aspect of this lies in your reaction to your child’s pain. When a NO is asserted; sometimes there are tears, often there are tantrums. But behind this behavior lies very important feelings like shame, rage and the mourning of something that cannot be kept. We don’t have to tolerate certain behavior but the feelings are another matter entirely. It is crucial that as parents, we are able to sit with their discomfort. So that it validates all their feelings. Even the ugly ones.

3. Learning to wait is an important part of growing up

Life is challenging and demanding. We have to strive for what we want and even then, we often still don’t get what we’ve worked for. This is the way of the world. By providing on-demand satisfaction, we create a false sense of an environment which can be controlled and molded to their every whim. Let’s rather offer our kids a more realistic view of things, a world which will inevitably disappoint them, but which they can manage.

4. Kids need to know their parents are in charge

Saying NO is not a power struggle, but it is the fortification of something. When there is too much negotiation at play your child may show gratification in the short term, but this is at the risk of something much bigger. In-charge adults provide scaffolding for our kids. An understanding of hierarchy and being kept safe. Contrary to instinct, being strong and holding boundaries around who makes the decisions creates a sense of order in the world and there is
a lot of comfort in that.

5. Boundaries create security

In the same way that we get anxious about inconsistency and too many changes, so do our kids. Which brings me back to Load Shedding. When we know we are not allowed to have lights for a few hours, we somehow make do. Sure we whine amongst ourselves, but we also create important alliances by sharing schedules on our neighborhood chats and make it work by buying batteries. These boundaries help us feel secure in our own ‘not having’. When the adults are consistent in how the NO is managed, the kids will adjust and be strong in spite of them.

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