NO: Why Kids…Need to Hear It…

NO: Why Kids- of All Ages- Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It

by David Walsh, Free Press, New York 2007

Although saying no to your child is obviously important, many parents still have a hard time following through- even when they know they should- especially when other parents and the culture around them are being permissive.  The first look at the psychological importance of no in a child’s development, No offers the lively voice, warm wisdom, science made simple, and breadth of knowledge that readers have come to expect from Dr. Walsh.


No builds a foundation for self-discipline, self-respect, and respect of others, integrity, perseverance, and a host of other character traits that lead to a happy productive life.

The truth is, we don’t always get what we want. Ironically, people who learn that lesson seem to be the most fulfilled.

University of Pennsylvania psychologists Angela Duckworth and Martin Seligman published a study in December 2005 showing that self-discipline is twice as important as intelligence in predicting school success.

However, discomfort, disappointment, and distress are simply part of life, and children and adults need to deal with them. How do we teach our kids to cope with the pain of boredom, disappointment, and rejection if we do everything we can to shield them from it? Don’t we want them to develop virtues like perseverance, patience, commitment, determination, and diligence?

Over the past twenty-five years, self-esteem scores and academic grades have risen as SAT scores have dropped. Other studies involving tens of thousands of students demonstrate that self-esteem does not boost academic achievement.

True self-esteem comes from achievement…In other words, personal successes and friendships engender self-esteem, not the other way around.

Disappointment, discouragement, and frustration help build character and self-esteem…How will our kids ever build the internal resources to cope with life’s ups and downs if they never get any practice? When you shield them from everything that hurts, you are not doing them any favors.

Muscles grow more powerful when we use them. Each time they recover from stress, they get stronger and more responsive.  If we don’t continue to use them, they get soft, flabby, and weak. Self-esteem works the same way. Kids need some stress to develop their psychological muscles of resilience, stamina, determination, commitment, confidence, diligence, and perseverance…If kids do not have negative experiences or stress, they do not build their psychological muscles, and they end up being emotionally flabby.

Overprotected kids become emotionally fragile and never learn to bounce back from adversity.

For many off us it’s easier to lower the bar than to raise the level of discomfort level. Too many of us step in too soon when there are disagreements, difficult problems, or disappointments.
Your kids need a combination of limits and consequences on the one hand and healthy encouragement and support on the other.

…to create positive self-esteem, encouragement cannot be empty praise. Encouragement is not constantly saying good things that have no meaning. Kids quickly figure out that you don’t really mean what you say when you give hallow praise.

The reward for saying no comes when our kids are the adults who know when to say no and when to say yes to themselves; who can delay gratification in order to accomplish greater achievements. No is not the goal. It is the road to Yes.

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