Parents: No is not a bad word

I see it all too often in my practice as a pediatrician: a frazzled mom and her young child await me as I open the exam room door, Elmo blaring from the iPad and Cheetos scattered around the room. As I begin my questions, the mom chases the rambunctious little toddler around the room, following him helplessly as he opens the garbage can lid, flips the light switch off, turns on the sink water, and grabs the computer mouse before I even have a chance to react. During my exam, the child jerks the stethoscope off my ears and the otoscope out of my hand. By the time the visit comes to a close, mom has promised half of the toy aisle at Target and an ice cream cone if the child will just behave. But not once, not even once, did I hear that one little magic word every child needs to hear.


It seems that many a well-meaning but misguided parent has difficulty with this little word. “If I say no to my toddler in the store, he will surely throw a fit, so I will just buy the toy to keep him quiet.” “I will just tolerate the bad attitude and disrespectful tone so we don’t cause a scene.” “If I don’t buy my teen a car, I will hear about it forever … it’s much easier to just fork over the money.” As parents, haven’t we all been there at one time or another? But in the end, if we are not careful, all we are left with are entitled children growing up to be entitled adults who know no boundaries.

Too often, parents forget they are the parents, choosing instead to take the easy road of complacency toward their children. After all, who really wants their child to be mad at them? Who wants a fight after a long day’s work? Who wants to have to work hard at this parenting thing?

Parents: it’s OK to say “no.” Not only is it OK, your child needs to hear that one little word as much as he or she needs to hear the words “I love you.” Because after all, they really mean the same thing, don’t they? Setting limits on your child’s behavior is not a cruel and unusual punishment, but rather a safety net that allows the child to explore his or her world. Without knowing their boundaries, children do not learn right from wrong, safe from dangerous, good from bad.

So no matter how you say it, whether it be “no” or “hands off, please” or “that’s enough,” the words themselves don’t matter. Just learn to refuse to say “yes.”

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About Dr. Kristie Rivers, Bundoo Pediatrician

Dr. Kristie Rivers is an Attending Physician, Assistant Medical Director of the Pediatric Hospitalist Program, and Director of Pediatric Medical Education at a children’s hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She cares for hospitalized children and also teaches pediatric residents and medical students.


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