Wednesday, June 08, 2011

All About “No” - by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

I had the pleasure of attending another lecture by Lisa Levine-Bernstein, MSN, RN, FNP, at one of our local New York Chapter, Motherhood Later, moms night out dinners a few weeks ago. The topic being discussed was, “How to Say ‘No’ to Your Child.” I unknowingly started our discussion by asking Lisa why she had chosen a parenting decision she made, at the previous dinner talk she gave. The issue was about saying “No” to her teenage daughter who wanted to get a tattoo. Lisa’s decision was to provide her sixteen-year-old with medical risks related to getting a tattoo and having her daughter ponder whether she might not like the tattoo in 10 years. Lisa also discussed with her daughter choosing a less conspicuous location for the tattoo, should it be visible to prospective employers or even graduate school interviewers. Lisa then said she told her daughter that on her 18th birthday, when she was legally an adult, her daughter could decide whether she still wanted the tattoo or not. When she turned 18, Lisa’s daughter ran to get a tattoo.

Since that first lecture with Lisa, I agreed with every parenting strategy Lisa discussed (I read too many parenting books). However, I don’t think I would have done what Lisa did, in making her daughter wait 2 years to get a tattoo. Knowing my son, who sounds very similar in personality to Lisa’s daughter, I would have presented all of the risks involved, including taking him to a dermatologist’s office to learn how painful and difficult getting a tattoo removed would be, get advice from other sources who were more knowledgeable about tattoos than me, then let him decide if he still really wanted one. If he did, I would set limits on size, design and location, but I ultimately would let him have one. I know my son well enough to know that if I made him wait 2 years, at the stroke of midnight on his 18th birthday, he would get one. And it would be the biggest, most obnoxious and conspicuous tattoo you have ever laid eyes on. But that’s my son, and that’s his personality. Lisa said that there was nothing wrong with my parenting decision, especially when you know your child as well as I do.

This lecture emphasized much more. At one point, Lisa asked how many mothers had been told by their child that their child hated them. I was the only one who hadn’t ever had my child tell me he hated me. I also explained why. When my son is angry with me, for whatever reason, I “beat him to the punch.” While he is still enraged, but before he can lash out at me, I say to him, “I know you are really mad at Mommy right now...and that’s okay. But I made my decision for a good reason and I am still going to say no.” By doing this, it let’s my son off the hook emotionally by being allowed to “hate me,” if he wants. It’s a little difficult to tell someone you hate her when they’ve already taken your words from you. I’ve also found that this technique diffuses a heated confrontation considerably. My child lives for initiating power struggles. I’ve learned (finally!) how to nip it in the bud before it escalates. Thank goodness I found something that works. I went through too many years of almost daily torments. Lisa liked how I handled my “challenging” child.

Lisa gave us suggestions of how to say, “No” effectively:

Make “No” a positive. Example: “You can have your treat just as soon as we finish eating dinner,” or “Of course you can watch TV...just as soon as you put your toys away.” This way, the “no” is really coming across as a “yes,” as long as the child complies.

Towards the end of the lecture, I made a suggestion that Lisa loved. If you have a child who gets easily sidetracked (like mine) and forgets to brush his teeth in the morning or doesn’t bring home all of the required books for school to do homework each day, I came up with a visual plan. I took pictures of my son doing his morning routine of getting dressed, washing face, combing hair, brushing teeth, and put them on a piece of poster board. This way my son could visually see what he needed to do next and eliminate his “sidetracking.” I did the same with his books for school. He had to make sure that he brought home different books, plus his folder, on different days. I took photos of each book and his folder and printed out mini pictures of these books. I made a Monday - Friday chart of the books my son needed for each day, glued the pictures to the page, and made multiple copies of that one page to stick in my son’s folder. He would check the chart as he was packing up for the day, and we rarely had to worry that something he needed to do his homework with was forgotten at school. Thus, no need to say, “no” to TV or using the computer as a consequence for forgetting his school items.

Everyone’s child is unique and incredible in his or her own way. Lisa said to seek out this “good” in your child to build up your child’s sense of self-esteem. Rather than say to your child, “You did a great job!” specify what the child did that made that job so great! Did they hit the ball so hard that they made a home run? Did they do a near perfect dive off the diving board? Did they choose colors for Legos that you probably would never have thought to combine, but looked terrific together as your child’s “work of art?" Praise them for these specific things. This way, when you do have to say “no,” your child will understand that you are being fair in dishing out that “no” because you also recognize when they also do some amazing things. But don’t overdo it. Use this technique modestly and appropriately. Let them get a sense that, “nobody is perfect.”

Finally, Lisa discussed the most important part of saying “no.” Don’t be wishy-washy and don’t give in. Once your child sees that you can stand your ground, but also realizes that you can recognize their achievements, they will test you less and power struggles will dissipate. Sometimes “no” is “no.” End of story. But it’s also okay to say to your child, “I need time to think about my decision. I will get back to you.” You know your child best. Pick and choose the “no” strategies that you think will work for your child. And if one technique doesn’t work, try another. After all, one size does not fit all.

If you would like to speak with Lisa directly or send her a question via e-mail:
Contact Lisa Levine-Bernstein, MSN, RN, FNP. E-mail: or  phone (516) 423 - 9918.

And if you live on Long Island, Queens or NYC,  join us for a fun and informative Mom’s Night Out! We all learn so much from the speakers and among ourselves! And we deserve our own night out!  There is no fee to join a local chapter, and there may be one in your town, or you can start one.  Contact to inquire.

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