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The Value of “No”

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Letting children have their way all the time is an obvious parenting failure. Learn how important it is to teach your kids to accept being told “No” and the role it plays in helping them tell right from wrong.

Watch a little child learning to walk, and you will witness pure joy. Chubby hands grasp the edge of a small table and little legs hoist the child up to a wobbly standing position; a big smile lights up the face, as if to say, Look at me, I did it! Exhilaration radiates from wide eyes and an open-mouthed smile. He or she has conquered a new challenge, and it is a thrilling experience! These are mental snapshots that parents remember for years to come.

But there’s another experience that creates a very different reaction; it’s when a child first comes face-to-face with the word “no.” Mommy or Daddy says a forceful “No!” for throwing food on the floor, poking a metal key into an electrical socket, or punching a playmate. What happens to that bright and beautiful smile? It melts away. Shock, disappointment, and even anger may follow. The previously exuberant face falls into furrows and creases of hurt and sadness. Before too long, an ear-piercing cry erupts.

Baby has been exposed to the word “no.”

Do you remember your parents ever using that word when you were growing up? If so, be grateful, because they gave you one of life’s greatest gifts: an understanding that happiness is more than just demanding and receiving your wants and desires. Believe it or not, not everyone walking around today has received that precious gift. Modern parenting has often focused on pleasing children at all costs and eliminating any source of discomfort, instead of teaching the enduring values of character and self-discipline.

Not to Be Told “No”

This trend has been around for a long time. Thirty-five years ago, my teenage sister worked in a daycare center. The policy at the nursery was that children were not to be told, “No!” Misbehaving children were to be given a distraction. If they were having an altercation with other children, they were to be offered a toy. If they were grouchy, cranky, or unwilling to comply, they were to be directed toward a different activity. But never was the word “no” to be used. To those of us whose parents didn’t bend to our every whim, this sounds a little strange—but not everyone was blessed with such parents.

And maybe that’s the problem; for some, the clear line between good and bad behavior has long since been blurred. Some never even learn that there is a boundary between good and evil. Why else do we see so many commit such heinous acts as adultery, murder, and fraud? Could it be that their wants were never refused in childhood, and they think on some level that adult life should be the same? They are just acting out the values they have, intentionally or accidentally, been taught. Yet there is a better way.

Why “No” Is Important

Why do we need to learn the meaning of “no” as children? If we are never told “No,” we never learn how to accept disappointment. We grow up thinking we can have our way all the time—and that sets us up for disaster in real life. If we grow up believing we are always right, we will struggle in relationships, because relationships demand understanding of the other person and willingness to accommodate that person’s wants and needs. If we grow up never having our desires curbed, we will go into adulthood as self-centered takers, instead of givers who have learned that, in the words of Christ, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). If we never learn to understand the word “no,” we can’t have a real relationship with Christ, because the Christian walk takes personal dedication and sacrifice. As Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Understanding and maturely responding to being told “No!” at a young age is a barometer of future success—as a student, a young adult, and onward throughout life. Some years ago, a dear friend was recounting her experiences as a first-grade schoolteacher. She was a wise and gentle Filipino lady who had worked for decades in elementary schools in the Philippines. She explained how, over the years, she had found that she could pick out, even in first grade, which students would succeed throughout their school years. It wasn’t about how smart they were. It wasn’t about how popular or good-looking they were or how many friends they had. She explained that in her experience, those who, by the time they entered first grade, had learned to understand the word “no” were the ones who would do well in school; by understanding and complying when they were told “No,” they were already laying the foundation to self-regulate and discipline themselves in choosing the right and resisting the wrong.

“No” Brings Freedom

Why is learning the value of “no” so important in childhood? Because childhood prepares us for adulthood, and adulthood prepares us for the Kingdom of God. This physical life is meant to be a training ground to prepare us to enter God’s Kingdom. It’s not just meant to be a time of self-indulgence and soaking up as many fun experiences as we can. We are here to practice living God’s way!

This doesn’t mean that Christian parents should constantly be harping on their children about every detail of their lives. “No” should not be the only—or even the predominant—word our children hear us say! There should be plenty of times when we praise, laugh with, and positively interact with our children, without barking out orders. But there are times when parents have a responsibility to outline clearly what God expects of us—including what God says “No” about (Exodus 20:1–17).

God’s way is called “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). Why is it called that? Because by doing what God says—and avoiding what He says not to do—we keep ourselves free from the unpleasant penalties of sin. Not breaking God’s law against murder frees us from the penalty of being tracked down, arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Avoiding adultery frees us from the pain of broken promises, shattered trust, destroyed marriages and families, and disillusioned, heartbroken children and spouses. Living a life free from lying frees us from the guilt and shame that come from being dishonest—and the stress of trying to cover it up!

Keeping God’s law means telling ourselves “No!” when it comes to sin, and that pattern should begin in childhood. After all, as Solomon wrote in Proverbs 20:11, “Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right.” Our children will be far better off if we ingrain in them that it’s right and good to tell themselves “No!” rather than engage in actions or behaviors that are dangerous or destructive.

If you had a parent who had the courage and fortitude to tell you “No!” when necessary, let them know how thankful you are. And whether you had that kind of parent or not, give that wonderful gift to your children.

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