Tracey Shipley
Youth, family and addictions counselor/creative therapist

“No” Is a Complete Sentence!

Boundaries keep our children safe
Boundaries keep our children safe

I have a friend with a four-year-old who has just discovered (the four-year old that is) his ability to establish his own sense of self through bucking his parents.  In one day everything changed and he went from being an adorable young child to a stubborn young child, on one too many occasions.  So I set out to pin down some ground rules to help these parents set healthy boundaries for their son and themselves. Ironically, there was not a lot of difference between what I suggest to the parents of teens and what I suggested to this young boy’s parents. There are three main points I made.

First of all: Be Consistent!! Our kids need to feel grounded and secure.  This happens when they know what to expect.  If we are busy changing rules and letting them push us into flexibility they have no idea what to expect next.  This is scary for kids of any age. They need to know that we are in charge and not them.  This gives them a sense of security.

Second of all: “No” is a complete sentence.  As in Torah, we learn that Am Yisroel agreed to Do then listen: Naase Ve Nishma. I believe that as parents we need our kids to follow the same advice.  First, do as we ask and then we can talk about it.  We cannot rationalize every request we make of our kids. Sometimes they just have to do it. Be it stay away from the street and walk on the sidewalk; don’t touch a hot stove; avoid certain neighborhoods; come home at a certain hour;  don’t drink and drive, and the list goes on.  Sometimes the reasoning is obvious and sometimes it is not. Either way, our kids need to know that if we say A we mean A and not B.  Once they listen to us we can discuss it…. Or not. That is up to us.  Sometimes less is more.  After the first few minutes, our kids are already coming up with a rebuttal and have stopped listening to us anyway.

Third of all: Establish consequences way in advance.  Power struggles kill relationships!  When our kids know that certain choices result in certain consequences they can choose what decision to make, understanding what the ramifications will be.  Understood that it is up to us to ensure that those really are the ramifications. If we say if you do this or don’t do this then that will happen and it doesn’t well ….. You know what the result will be.  Our word is mush and they will spend the next few years testing you always thinking they will get what they want in the end.

It’s important for us to realize that our consistency is not just good for them, it is good for us. Nothing drives us madder than a wining child or teen.  It is one of those behaviors that ekes at our decision-making processes and causes us often to give in.  I can guarantee that if your child or teen sees that your “No” is a final “No” they will not result to wining. Why? Because it didn’t work in the first place.

I love the saying that you do not have to show up to every argument you are invited to. This goes for discussions with our kids as well.  Once we have left the room there is no one to argue with.  It saves a lot of frustration and often avoids uncontrollable situations.

Needless to say, when both a father and mother are a part of the family dynamic both must be on the same page. There is nothing that our kids like more than to pin one parent against another to get what they want. The age-old response, ask your mom or go ask your dad does not work.  It causes a rift in your parenting effectiveness and results in tension in the household. If an issue comes up that needs to be decided upon no one says you have to give instant answers. Tell your child you will discuss it with mom, dad or someone else who advises you and give them a specific time to get back to them.  This way they feel listened to and know when to expect an answer. At the same time, you don’t feel pressured to make a decision you may regret later.  You maintain control while being considerate to your child.

I often use the expression of giving our children the keys to the car at a very young age. Every time we are at the store with our young child and they begin to scream and we subdue them with candy or other treats we are giving them the car keys. They get rewarded for poor behaviors in addition to understanding that we can appease ourselves and others with food, but that is another issue.  When our kids nag us for rewards that they either have not earned or are not healthy for them and we acquiesce, we again are handing them the proverbial car keys.  This is neither healthy for our kids or for ourselves. We raise them to believe that they can get what they want by being annoying.  No parent wants an annoying child, no teacher wants an annoying student, no employer wants an annoying employee, no partner wants an annoying partner…. You get what I mean.

As parents, we maintain the proverbial car keys and only give them up when our kids are prepared to handle them with reverence.  We reserve the right to take them back when needed no matter how old our kids are. Rewarding our kids when rewards are not earned gives them the wrong impression of how life will treat them. Our family-style must match the real world.  That is how we prepare them. Raising them in a bubble is not a solution but neither is throwing them “out there” before they are ready.  It’s a tricky balance, but we can handle it with the right guidance and consistency. Want more details? Let me know and we can work on it together.

About the Author
Tracey Shipley is a youth and family counselor specializing in addictions and family communication. She was born in the US and moved to Israel in 1984 to continue her studies in Art Therapy. She moved back to the US in 1989 and began working in a drug rehab for teens where she was trained while she worked as a primary counselor. She moved back to Israel in 1996 and continued her work in addictions at the Jerusalem Methadone Clinic for a total of 9 years. She initiated projects for the children of the addicts at the Center, for Ethiopian Teens and a Sober Music Bar for teens and young adults: Sobar Jerusalem.
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