One thing I hope that you will learn early, and learn better than I did when I was young, is how to have good boundaries. I hope you come to know what you want in life, and what you don’t want in life. And I hope that you hold yourself in high esteem: that you know you are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect.
Most importantly, I hope that in knowing these things you are not afraid to say “No.” As children people often make us do things we don’t want, and that go against our agenda. This is necessary from time to time, because children are focused on learning, playing, and exploring their world, while the adults in our lives have a duty to keep us safe and healthy. The two often clash, especially when the child wants to play with something dangerous or unhealthy, stay up past their bedtime, or avoid some food or grooming requirement. Children, after all, are still learning what is good for them.
All too often though, adults forget that. they use force or punishment to make a child conform to the adult’s agenda. Adults can be impatient, after all, adult life is full of deadlines and “to do” lists that don’t make any sense to the child – and often, adults don’t even bother trying to explain them. When the child insists on his agenda – by dawdling, refusing to put down the thing they are playing with, refusing to eat, fighting over bedtime, the adult can take it as a personal affront, and even attack the child’s right to do so.
“Stubborn”, “willful”, “rude”, “disobedient” are usually words they use, combined with punishments – or blows. And what the child learns is that first, they are helpless to do anything about the angry adult who is punishing them, and second, they don’t have a right to say “No.” And they carry that all the way into their adult lives.
I hope, wish, and pray, that I will never be that kind of adult. I am studying hard to look for other ways to parent you where I can coach you, explain things to you, and teach you to negotiate. Where when I have to set limits, I will do so playfully and gently. Because saying “No.” and knowing that you have the right to do so, is critical to being a healthy adult.
Every human being has the right to say “No.” whenever they need to. Even children. And unless they are about to harm themselves, or harm others, they have a right to expect that “No.” to be respected without the need to explain themselves. If the “No.” is not respected, they have the right to walk away. And if they are kept from walking away with force, then they have the right to defend themselves with as much force is necessary.
- Understanding how to say “No.” and walk away as a child will protect you from bullies.
- Understanding how to say “No.” as a teen will protect you from peer pressure to try dangerous drugs, join gangs, have sex you aren’t ready for, abuse porn, or other self-harming behaviours that teenagers are prone to.
- Understanding how to say “No.” as an adult will keep you from being taken advantage of by manipulative bosses and co-workers.
- Understanding how to say “No.” will also keep you from making too many commitments and burning yourself out with stress.
Many of the adults who carry the belief that they aren’t allowed to say “No.” lead very unhappy lives. They become afraid of conflict, and will go out of their way to avoid it. They live their lives trying to please other people, even if that means letting those people bully, neglect, or manipulate them. They spend time and energy showering attention and gifts on to other people, hoping that in return those people will be ‘nice’ back… and being bitter and angry when those people don’t notice and just do whatever it is they would naturally do.
These conflict-averse adults and “nice guys” wish other respected them, but often fail to do the one thing in the world that reminds people that they are worth respecting: saying “No.” After all, it is only when you say “No.” and show people that you make choices of your own, that people remember that they have to negotiate with you to get what they need. We respect and admire most those people who are willing to stand up and say “No.” to us.
Know that I will do my best to teach you to say “No.”, and communicate your needs and agenda clearly. And know that I will back you in saying “No.” however you need to when it comes to bullies, adults who abuse their position, and peers.
Even when you need to say “No.” to me.