Dear Grandparenting: My daughter called me last week with the big news that my grandson, Owen, has a new favorite word. After she handed him a slice of banana, he pushed it away and said “No.” Owen must have liked the results, because he said, “No,” again after she gave him some juice and hasn’t stopped since.
By now I suppose little Owen is well on his way to saying, “No,” with the best of them. That’s what I’ve observed in kids today. They think they are in charge. Maybe it’s because of this new wave of feel-good self-esteem stuff that grandchildren get fed in school, or because they lack supervision since both parents are busy working themselves to death.
Isn’t it interesting how my little grandson has turned the tables? Children are the ones who need to hear adults say, “No,” not the other way around. There are so many ways for kids to get in trouble today. How can you ever learn what’s right from wrong without a heavy dose of the word, no? Blair Benson, New York, New York
Dear Blair: Short but muscular, “no,” may well be the most powerful word in our vocabulary. For small children, it’s an exhilarating dash for freedom, an attempt to impose their will on the world around them.
But as they mature, no becomes the glue that binds grandchildren to society, enabling them to make the moral and ethical decisions that define accepted norms of civilized behavior. “In order to say yes to what’s truly important, you first need to say no to other things,” said William Fry, a social anthropologist who teaches managerial negotiating at Harvard University. “It’s the defining challenge of our age.”
A constant stream of yes will spoil the child, but excessive use of no is oppressive and makes it harder to stick when no really matters. To use no more sparingly, learn to redirect inappropriate behaviors (“Always play ball outside, never inside.”) or try alternative phrases like “not today” or “maybe another time.” Don’t jump to no automatically — asking grandchildren why they want or need to do something lets them know they’ve been heard and gives you the opportunity to meet them halfway. Avoid lengthy explanations when no becomes necessary, especially with little ones who can be confused by adult reasoning.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Adam Brown, of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was watching granddaughter Missy practicing how to write her name in script letters in the air by pretending her finger was a pencil.
Missy paused to make circular motions with her elbow. “Oops, now I’m erasing my little mistake,” she announced.
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.