The Most Loving Way to Say ‘No’

He and his wife had been handling their toddler’s demands and clinginess with sensitivity, yet her behaviors were becoming more intense and frequent. I was recommending that they be more clear, direct, and unafraid of their child’s strong feelings when it suddenly clicked for him, “Oh, so this is like when someone wants to date you and you’re not interested, but instead of being direct you try to let them down easy…and then they don’t end up getting the message.”

Bingo. That analogy really resonated, because that was once me. I avoided confrontation and saying “no”. I didn’t want to risk hurting anyone’s feelings or make them angry at me. I did not want to be rejected, even when I was basically rejecting that person myself. I played it safe so I would continue to be “liked” and not create waves.

So, I made excuses and more excuses, rather than simply admitting, “Thanks, but I’m not interested in dating you.” Invariably, the guy would keep calling (no texting to hide behind back then, though I’m sure I would have appreciated it!), and I’d need to keep evading and avoiding him. I’d become increasingly annoyed and resentful. Can’t he take a hint? But whose fault was it? Mine, of course.

We can create a similar dynamic with our children. We “string them along” when we are not clear and direct, usually because we don’t want to face the music. Understandably. Screaming, crying and tantrums aren’t music to anyone’s ears, but when we attempt to avoid or tiptoe around our children’s feelings, their undesirable behavior and neediness usually continue (or crop up again later), and then we are the ones who end up screaming. We have only ourselves to blame.

The most loving way to say ‘no’ is directly, confidently and long before we become annoyed or angry. This isn’t about being harsh, and it’s definitely not punitive. It’s simply being decisive

It is best to use the actual word ‘no’ only occasionally, because children tune it out if we use it too much. It’s also not as respectful or clarifying as “I won’t let you, because that hurts,” or “I can’t let you, because that isn’t safe,” or “I can’t play with you right now. I need to get our dinner ready.”

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