Monday, June 1, 2009

On learning not to take "No" for an answer...

I might have mentioned this before once or twenty times, but I have some spirited children. And that presents some unique parenting challenges.

One of my greatest challenges, though, is pretty standard stuff. Getting them to listen to what I say. Or to what their father says. Or their grandmother. get the idea.

A couple weeks ago while we were on vacation I was presented yet again with a listening problem. Kai had been playing in my mom's room and kept getting into her make-up, clothes, shoes, etc. Finally, a bit frustrated with her, my mom called me in to intervene.

I hate to see Kai behave this way. I hate when she repeatedly ignores me or her father when she is in a situation where listening is important. So I took her aside and attempted to talk to her about her decisions.

I sat her down, looked into her big brown eyes and tried to explain the situation.

"Kai," I started, "when someone tells you 'NO' that means you can't do it anymore and you have to stop."

But, that didn't seem right to say. So I tried again.

"What I mean is, when someone gives you a rule to follow then you need to always follow it."

But, that just didn't work for me either. Because it occurred to me that words hold such power that I just couldn't speak those into her heart. It felt like I might as well be saying, "You need to always give up when someone puts an obstacle in your path and always follow the rules without question." I didn't want that to be something she started to learn.

And while you might think I'm sounding a bit like a crazy hippie, I do believe there is power in the words you speak into a child's heart. And if I tell her to always listen to the word "NO" or never question a rule, I wonder what she'll miss out on accomplishing in life. Because one thing I love most about her is her determination and perseverance.

But, I also believe kids do need rules and that kids (particularly mine) need to listen to what those who know best for them tell them to do. As my husband is always anxious to remind me, you need to know and understand the rules before you can know when/how to break them. I'm hoping in my kids' cases, they know my rules for a good 18 years or so before they learn to start breaking them.

So, my dilemma was how to explain to her that she needs to listen to me, her father, her elders without planting a seed that "NO" is the end of the road and an obstacle there is no getting around.

Because even though I want to raise well-mannered kids who listen to everything I tell them, I believe it is most important to raise free-thinkers who respect authority while maintaining the ability to think outside the box and challenge accepted norms when appropriate.

How do I do that? What do I say to explain this to my children?

And so, after much agonizing, I came up with a way to explain our position to Kai.

I told her, "Listen to the people who love you."

This was the best way I could find to express to her that it is important to listen to rules that are given to her by people who care for her without impressing upon her that the words "No" or "You can't" are absolute and that she should give up whenever anyone tells her those things.

These words, "Listen to the people who love you," also have even greater implications. It isn't just a matter of listening when it comes to do's and don'ts. I hope it also impresses upon her that she ought to listen to those who have her greatest interests at heart. That she should seek wise counsel for decisions. That she can trust those of us in her life who love her.

Rules are important. And we have our fair share around this house. But, my goal is to communicate to our kids that "No" and "Don't" and "Can't" should have less influence over their decisions than the advice (or strong suggestions) of those who love and care for them.

After all, where would we be today if our founding fathers hadn't had the courage to break a few rules now and then?


Anonymous said...

That was the *perfect* thing to say.

We have a quote on our kitchen wall that says:

Where The People Who Love You Live

:) dslak/Debra

Transparent J said...

Great post. I too struggle with the independent thinker vs. following along with the rules... This is great advice... The challenging part will be for them in the future may be determining who TRULY loves them!

Great thoughts for today.


Peanut said...

I like that. I'm going to use that.
I too have struggled with the balance between obedience/following rules and free-thinking.

Rae said...

I am constantly confounded on how to not contradict myself in teaching SC right from wrong. My mom did a fantastic job of raising an obedient and respectful free-thinking free-spirited unique individual. And I can't figure out how she did it!

Chad was more from the "do as your told" philosophy, and I feel smothered just thinking about it! I want SC to do what's right b/c it's right not b/c she's told. It is truly a tough subject to handle correctly.

But I think you did a beautiful job of instilling respect for the *proper* authority figures in her life while still letting her think about things for herself!

Props to you!