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Children Learn the Power of NO

Did you ever have the experience of going into a place of service or a place of business (no they are not mutually inclusive!) and, before you can finish explaining what you want, need or at the very least hope for, the individual behind the barrier says "NO." This person is a way ahead of you and he already knows it can't be done.

When I find myself in these situations, I refuse to accept the first NO and I make several attempts at modifying and/or adding to my request in the hopeless pursuit of a YES. I quite often wonder why we get so many no's and so few yes's in our society.

Years ago, when I was focused on things like practical thinking, I came across some explanations for why NO is the default position for many people.


The first point is that NO is power. We learn this when we are mere toddlers. By the age of two we are wielding the NO stick with confidence and vigour because NO can stop a person five times our size in her tracks. What a self-satisfying exercise that can be.

As children we feel the power of NO from the other side of the coin. Parents are good at using the NO word. School is more NO territory. Not only does it spell power but there is the added sting of disapproval when NO is used at home and at school.

So NO is power and maybe that is why it falls off the tongue so emphatically in some venues. I think it also represents the need to protect. Fear is an underlying emotion when it comes to NO.

When my daughter was young, there were times when she would ask a question like, "Mom can I sleep at Sue's house?" and I would hand out an automatic "NO." Then, a short while later, I would think, "Why did I say no?" I would realize that I had let my fear take over and, assuming that the things were set up properly, there was no reason to say no.

It is OK to make a mistake and at times like this I would let her know that I had let my fear for her safety overtake my good sense and I would reverse my decision.

NO is a good tool for setting limits. There are whole courses devoted to learning how to say NO.

Just as NO can stir up fear, it can also bring up guilt. There are many times when someone needs to say NO but they say yes instead. If you do this often enough, you start to let go of who you are. You begin to feel that people are taking advantage of you and, the fact is, they are! Assertiveness training programs identify that people say YES all the time because they feel guilty when they say NO. A person will give up time and money to avoid having to say NO because they don't want to put the other person out.

NO is a powerful word. Use it wisely.