Right Now the Answer is “No”

Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD

How many times have you had one of your children ask for something that he or she really wanted – and also really wanted the answer right away? If you’re like me, it felt like taking my brain and twisting it into a pretzel for a bit. Part of me wanted to say, “Yes, of course,” because it feels good to “grant wishes” and another part of me would be saying, “No, are you kidding?” Sleeping over two weekend nights? Driving home at 2 AM on New Years Eve? Buying one more stuffed animal? Another piece of chocolate cake? I also didn’t want to deal with begging or get in a power struggle about it before I really knew what I thought. I felt trapped. I wanted time.

What’s a parent to do? The amazing man I took parenting classes from, Bob Bradbury, often said, “If you don’t know what to do – don’t do anything.” That has turned out to be useful wisdom. What a radical idea! It is all right for parents to stop and think. I could give my brain a chance to straighten itself out.

My children weren’t too happy with plain silence though. It worked better to connect and then think. One way to do that is to say something like, “I can tell that you really want _______. I’m not comfortable with that right now. So right now the answer is no. Let me think about it for a bit and I might change my mind.”

Then what happened? Well, it turns out that both of us had a bit more time to think. The second conversation always sounded more reasonable.

• I’m still not comfortable with you sleeping over two nights this weekend, but I know that you want to play with David – is there another way to do that?
• I’m not comfortable with you driving on New Years Eve – would Monica be willing to have you stay the night?
• I’m not willing to buy the stuffed animal for you. If you have enough money saved up though we can come back for it another day and you can bring your allowance.
• A second piece of chocolate cake eh? Hmm… it really is good isn’t it? You ate your dinner and are still hungry – I think we could make an exception for tonight.

Notice that there are no long explanations or justifications. You can’t really argue with “I’m not comfortable with….” It is simple, honest and straightforward. If it works for you, we’d love to hear your stories.

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