by Leah Black

“No.” It’s one of the smallest words in the English language, yet it can be the hardest word to say, especially when it’s directed at your child. I think most of us would agree that when your child is in immediate danger or doing something you’ve repeatedly told the child not to do, it’s pretty easy to flatly deny the child with a stern “No.”

However, I’ve discovered a gray area where I’m torn, if just for a split second, between doing the right thing as a parent and letting my child explore new-found abilities. Let me explain.

We’ve allowed our 16-month-old to play with the pot lids in one of our kitchen drawers. Just a few weeks ago, Liam realized that if he takes all the lids out of the drawer he can climb in, stand up, and grab whatever is within reach on the counter (thankfully, there was nothing dangerous up there). He managed to accomplish this feat of agility within seconds while my back was turned.

If I hadn’t gotten him out of the drawer immediately, he could have been seriously hurt. But, what struck me most, as I was racing toward him, was the look on Liam’s face. It was priceless. He was absolutely beaming with pride because he had thought of a new way to reach what he usually could not.

I almost wanted to celebrate his ingenuity rather than quash his sense of accomplishment, even if it was for his own good. In the interest of his safety, I had to be sure he knew that climbing into the kitchen drawers wasn’t acceptable, but it hurt me just a bit to watch that unforgettable look of pride turn to tears. It wasn’t entirely easy to say “No.”

Like most toddlers, Liam knows how to manipulate. He’s learned how to turn on the crocodile tears to try to motivate us to let him do what he wants. His father and I have a strong defense against his wails of faux misery, but I admit there are times when the crying and whining can go on for so long that I come close to giving in.

When I reach that point, I remind myself that I have to stand firm because this is a critical time in his young life to lay the foundation of discipline. Together, Terrence and I have to teach Liam that “No” means “No”, not “No … well … maybe … okay.”

Issues of safety aside, saying no isn’t easy. Sometimes we think our children won’t love us if we tell them no, or we fear they’ll rebel. Sometimes we’re just too tired to fight about it. The reality is that we’re doing them a big favor in life by laying down rules.

I recently read an article online that said that the greatest gift parents can give their children is “No.” By telling our children “no” when they want something they don’t need or if they want to do something we don’t feel comfortable with, we give them boundaries. By giving them boundaries, we show our children that we care.

We also gain our children’s respect by being consistent. When you say no, stick to it. You child needs to understand that your word means something.