by Nicholeen Peck
Many parents want their children to learn to take responsibility for themselves: to learn self-government. A self-governed person, no matter the age, will be able to show the following characteristics. They can: give themselves instructions, follow through on commitments, accept the consequences of life, talk openly with people, discuss a difference of opinions with civility and love, give themselves “no” answers and accept the “no” answers of life and others.
Often, people falsely believe that true freedom is a product of doing whatever they want, whenever they want to do it. They think freedom means they don’t have to live by rules. A “no” answer might seem restrictive to this false-freedom mindset. When, in reality, accepting a “no” answer is a skill which builds confidence and empowers a person as they practice and learn the skill. It’s a vital ingredient in the recipe of liberation.
Hearing “no” answers, such as, not having things go the way we want them, or expect them to go, can feel disappointing or unsettling. These feelings often keep us from trusting the power of the “no” answer. Time after time, it has been observed that “no” answers have the unique ability to increase confidence, emotional strength, faith in God’s timing for our lives, and personal empowerment.
What Toddlers Know About “No”
Toddlers know that the person who says “no” is usually the person in charge. Good teaching for toddlers includes teaching the young child boundaries. The toddler is curious, but, he doesn’t have enough knowledge or experience to keep himself safe without thoughtful “no” answers from loving adults.
At first, the toddler is okay with “no” answers from adults because they have always trusted in the bigger people to keep them safe. However, acceptance of “no” answers soon change into frustration because curiosity increases at the same time the “no” answers begin to increase. Before long, the curious toddler begins to try her hand at being the power figure, so she starts saying “no” to the adults. This natural shift to giving the adults “no” answers, always shocks the adults. They wonder if their child has a rebellious tendency or strong will, when, in reality, the toddler has just figured out that saying “no” is a sign of power.
One day, while watching my granddaughter, Clara, I heard her tell herself, “No, no” when she reached for something that her mother had previously given her a “no” answer about touching. Little, 20-month-old, Clara recognized that she was wanting to do something that she shouldn’t do, and she bravely parented herself by giving herself a “no” answer.
Teaching Children to Accept “No” Answers
Children can start learning to accept “no” answers from parents when they are still very young. Clara knows that when she is told something is a “no” answer that she needs to:
- Look at the person or situation.
- Keep a calm face, voice, and body.
- Say, “Okay”, or disagree appropriately.
- Drop the subject.
If she struggles with calmness, saying okay, or dropping the subject then she is corrected and might need to go to her “calm down spot.” This adult skill helps her remember to choose to be calm instead of attempting to control her parents, which she sometimes tries to do.
When my youngest son, Porter, was seven years old, he saw a young boy having a tantrum and then that boy was given a phone to be quiet. Porter looked at me and said, “Mom, that is so sad. That dad is teaching his son to go out of control to get his way. He should just teach him to accept a “no” answer.”
Adults Accepting “No” Answers
Life hands all of us “no” answers from time to time. We simply can’t control every person and situation. Some adults struggle most with the “no” answers that come at them naturally in life. However, others seem to have the greatest struggle with knowing when they need to tell themselves, “No”.
Some pleasure-seeking ideologues don’t believe in ever telling themselves, “No.” But, it doesn’t take much observation to see that the person who indulges in any pleasure they desire soon becomes entitled, addicted, unhappy with life in general, and sometimes even abusive. Complete license leads to out-of-control cravings and hyper-focus on how current feelings compare to the feeling of pleasure. In short, pleasure-seekers habitually seek stimulation for more pleasure.
Since society promotes pleasure-seeking, it isn’t as natural nowadays for people to think of giving themselves “no” answers as a way to find personal freedom. Ironically, it’s the subordination of self or self-government that leads to the greatest empowerment and confidence.
When a negative thought, habit, or behavior is plaguing us, we tend to feel weak and vulnerable. We look for relief from things around us only to find that other people and things can’t take our worries or pains away. We must set ourselves free. By choosing to govern ourselves, we choose to stop the destructive thoughts or behaviors.
Adults use the same skills mentioned earlier for accepting “no” answers, even if they are the one giving themselves the “no” answer. For example, I like to do things late at night because there aren’t many interruptions and I can be very productive. However, I have noticed, if I don’t go to bed at a decent hour, I can’t wake up at a healthy time and will probably miss my morning walk. Thus, going to bed too late creates a domino effect that ruins the next day before it even begins. The only way to save productivity and balance for the next day is to give myself a “no” answer the night before. Once the clock strikes a certain time, even if I’m being productive, I tell myself, “No” and go to bed. Accepting my “no” answer helps me have a happier, more productive day in the morning.
We can illustrate how “no” answers help empower an individual with the following example. When I have a negative thought, such as offense, stress, or frustration, I’ve found that it’s liberating to say out loud, “This thought is not going to be productive. It’s time to give myself a ‘no’ answer. I feel this way, and feelings are part of being human. But, directing myself is also part of being human. I choose to tell myself, ‘No’ and to drop the subject. I’m moving on now.”
This inside conversation may seem silly, even a little bit too deliberate perhaps, but it’s empowering. When I teach and parent myself by telling myself, “No” then I’m much better at observing healthy boundaries, creating good habits, and recognizing that I always get to choose.
Choice is part of life, but how easily we forget that we have the power to choose. In the moments of temptation or turmoil we can still choose. We are strong enough to tell ourselves, “Self, this is a ‘no’ answer. Stay calm and drop the subject.”
It may seem backward to suggest that “no” answers are good things. But it’s time to turn away from the emotionally entitled, pleasure-seeking culture we live in and see that “no” answers are good, healthy, and empowering. Giving ourselves “no” answers is a power move, even toddlers know that. When we take that power and accept our own “no” answers then we increase trust in ourselves and in the destiny of our lives. When we trust ourselves and God more, we increase confidence no matter what experiences come our way.
Want to refresh your self-government skills? Come to the TSG Fall Fresh Start webinar on September 16th, 2023. Webinar will be available for purchase after webinar date.