No means no, or don't say it!
A client of mine, Jane, uses the word "no" more than any other word in her vocabulary, she thinks. It just jumps out of her mouth before she even thinks about what the answer might actually be. A nasty habit she's trying hard to break.
The main problem with this is that when we say "no", I believe it should be a firm "no", non-negotiable. When we as parents say "no" and then, no matter how it happens, end up saying "yes" instead, we become unbelievable to our children. We're teaching them that we're not trustworthy, and we don't mean what we say. Ouch. That is not the message any parent wants to deliver.
A great example of this is a parent and child grocery shopping. The child, Ben, says "Mom, I want a cookie." Mom says "No, Ben. We're heading home for dinner soon." Ben says, much louder, "But I want a cookie!" Mom says, "Ben, you can't yell inside the store. I said no cookie." Ben yells, "I WANT A COOKIE!" Mom, embarrased at her yelling child, says "Okay! Just be quiet!"
1)What did Mom do? Gave a firm no, then with a second request, repeats no, but this time with extra information about something else Ben can't have, then when Ben escalates to a full yell, she gives in and says yes.
2)What has Ben learned? Getting a cookie is a three step process.
If not having a cookie before dinner is something you're clear about, then try this instead: Ben says "Mom, I want a cookie." Mom says "Me too! How about having a cookie after dinner?" Ben says "But I want a cookie now!" Mom says "I hear that. I want one now too. And our choice is to have one after dinner." Ben yells "I WANT A COOKIE NOW!" Mom says "Ben, yelling in the store is not okay. It's unpleasant for me, as well as the other people shopping. I said we could have cookies after dinner. If you continue to yell, we'll have to leave the store, and then we won't have the ingredients to make cookies."
1)What did Mom do? She responded to Ben's request with a "yes...and" statement instead of a sharp "no" statement. Why say no to the request when it's reasonable? Let them know when exactly it can happen. Most kids get so excited at hearing the yes, they won't escalate like Ben did the second time.
I wanted to show how you could handle the classic grocery store escalation, though. Mom stayed calm, and explained to Ben the two natural consequences to his yelling. 1. Other people were not enjoying him, which is hard for a child. They want to be enjoyed and given positive attention. 2. Leaving the store, with no cookie makings. Did Ben need more structure than this? Did he need to be Disciplined? I don't think so. I think he got two very clear, very unpleasant consequences from his behaviour already. I'd be more excited about talking to him about how we negotiate, and how to know when i'm using a firm statement and when I'm willing to consider doing it his way, or finding a compromise.
2) What did Ben learn? Ben learned that Mom is going to follow through with what she says. If she says they'll have to leave the store, and he keeps yelling, she'd better leave the store. If she says they won't have cookies because he yelled, he'd better not get a cookie.
Following through with your words, and using words other than "no" when possible helps children to learn to trust you, your words, and to learn about how the world around them works. Saving the word "no" will give it alot more meaning and value when you do use it. What a valuable lesson.