Parents like me—we hear the whispers. When we pass other mums and dads at the school gates, in the street, at the park. Sometimes the whispers are metaphorical—but I hear them all the same:
“She doesn’t say no to her child…”
They have their presuppositions about why I do what I do. And they’re welcome to them—that’s their prerogative. They might believe I don’t say no to my daughter because I like to overindulge her, because nothing’s off limits—and therefore that I must be raising a selfish, self-centred brat who will grow up to do whatever she wants, and to hell with everyone else.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
What does “No” actually do to a child? What do they learn? What do they experience?
Let me answer all three in one: nothing.
“No” is a shortcut. It’s sloppy. It doesn’t convey information, just signals the unexplained absence of information. It describes nothing—and worse, it discourages exploration. Why take the risk of toddling off somewhere new, picking up some intriguing new object, running around the house and garden, when Mummy or Daddy could utter an apparently arbitrary “No” and throw a spanner in proceedings? Better to play it safe, stick to the comfortable and familiar.
None of that equates to me never stopping my daughter in her tracks—but it does mean I proactively look for what I like to call ‘yes spaces’, encouraging her to take that extra step outside her comfort zone. It also helps that I’m a secret hippy, relaxed about things getting dirty, undeterred by a healthy modicum of mess throughout the house, and not flustered at the sight of a surprise patch of pee on the carpet.
What I do say—instead of “No”
Simple: I talk things through. I rationalise. I reason. I speak to my daughter as if she were an adult.
“Darling, I know you want to stand on the table. But if you stand on the table, you could fall off and get an ouchy, and that would be really sore, wouldn’t it? Do you want to climb? Is that why you want to stand on the table? Yes? Okay—how about we go over here and climb the sofa instead…?”
Not saying no to my daughter also doesn’t equate to me being any less alert to her wellbeing. She once dropped a glass which smashed right next to her bare feet. Before she could walk a single step I’d uttered a loud and clear “Stop!” What’s more, I believe not saying no means my daughter’s personality will develop more organically. In that one specific way, I won’t be shaping her into either an introvert or an extrovert. As both an extrovert myself and as someone fascinated by developmental psychology, it just feels right to let things play out as they will, minimising my influence in some regards to let my daughter blossom into an individual in her own right.
What I have always wanted is to empower my daughter to grow into someone strong, brave, resilient—and even more importantly, I remind her every day that she’s loved, constantly and unconditionally. I don’t care if stuff gets damaged by accident—I simply explain to her why we try to avoid breaking things. I don’t care if she throws food off her plate—she can work gravity out for herself. After a few weeks she got bored and gave up these mealtime shenanigans altogether.
Not saying No is just one component of an overarching parenting style
I also make sure to never help my daughter with anything I think she can do herself. That’s one of the central tenets of a Montessori education, for which I’m an ardent advocate. As a result, at 15 months she was already able to dress herself: pull-up nappy, trousers, hat, jacket. Even socks. Granted, she was donning socks on her hands as well as her feet for a week or so—but we had a chat about why gloves might be a better idea, and she came round to my point of view soon enough.
At 18 months she chose to self-potty-train. Does that mean we don’t have regression or accidents? No—but when those things do occur, I know she’s doing the best she can at her current level of functioning. There’s no telling off, only comforting and a chat about what happened and how she can carry on working toward her goals next time.Let your child be bold. Let them explore. Wean yourself off that unhelpful two-letter word—and you might just be astonished at what your child’s capable of.