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When No means Yes

How often does no actually mean yes?

Tonight, as I scolded my toddler for not eating his gourmet slightly peppered grilled salmon over creamy coconut milk rice and gleaming freshly chopped mango salsa a hypocrite was being born. It was not two hours later that he has not taken a bite, and won the battle of the highchair release with his new found ‘cuteness’ of language, that his siblings arrived home with cupcakes. Oh no, Ollie can’t have a cupcake until he eats his dinner, as if the terrorist two gave any consideration to my guilt trip. He danced and said the word ‘cupcake’ but this time his cuteness reaped no reward. He was directed back to his dinner, which he ran off happily to ignore. That’s right. I win. No means No.

Until Millie storms in the kitchen 5 minutes before the bedtime march and says “Can I give Ollie that cupcake? I made it JUST for him!” In that moment, your heart does multiple things. I think its technically considered arrhythmia, but science aside you feel warm because you taught an offspring a moral value that she implemented. She thought of someone outside of herself with enough forethought to give him the cupcake rather than say “these are mine”. How sweet she is. Then she opens her sweet little lips one more time to say “well if he’s not going to eat it, than I am”, and you realize you’re not winning anything. More than I don’t want my children to eat sugar, I don’t want them to feel justified that it was the ‘thought that counts’, and the emotional breakdown that ensues after any one of them eats the evil-cane. So I relinquish the last fight I had in me, and I gave the baby a cupcake. Basically, for dinner. I thought I had this life all planned out? No means yes if you wait long enough?

How often does no actually mean yes? Ollie learned tonight that I’m maximum only 99% serious about making him eat his dinner, and he will keep trying over and over to make that percentage lower by bringing me snacks and using his cute new trick of the day to convince me to fall for his evil plots. Tiger mom would be SO disappointed.

Consistency is key. If Ollie gets a cupcake for dinner once a year, he knows that I’m pretty serious about eating dinner. If he gets one every week, or more, he will realize I’m not serious at all, and most of what I say is idol threats. If he never gets a cupcake I was the evil hippie mom that grew him dreads and never let him eat a pinch of gluten until he was an adult. There has to be an answer.

Parenting is hard. The more kids you have I’m finding the more they work against you. Its like you live in a frat house and your whole job is to keep these drunk terrors alive until they turn 18, and even THEN you still have to give them money and cook them dinner all the time. This was not well thought through.

The good news is if you use a unified strategy, working together with your partner the weights do shift and although the inmates try to escape, they can’t break your code, after all they can’t even drive yet.

When I deal with people in my life, people in the community how often does no actually mean yes? How often does no just mean ‘you have to work harder to get a yes from me’. I think we’ve all seen the Lorax, when you’re holding the key to saving man-kind you don’t just give it to the first guy that asks.

Where is the line between ‘I tried harder and its still no, I should accept that’ and ‘ maybe he wants me to keep pushing to see if he’ll say yes’. As adults from stable back grounds this obviously comes much easier than an adult that grew up in chaos or trauma. Adults from stable backgrounds pick up on social cues their parents shared, “when your friends come over you share your toys’. A kid from trauma or chaos may have never had a friend over before, they don’t understand that  social tip, they have no reference.

This is my thought process behind dealing with kids of trauma as we move toward a summer with an orphan that probably has some of her own. These kids don’t act up because they’re assholes. They’re not bad on purpose. Approach behavior like a question mark. When my 5yr screams at his sisters “you cheated, you’re stupid” because he lost a game, fair and square, I ask myself what is making him be unable to process his frustration and how can I help him?

Questions to ask yourself when children misbehave. Where is this behavior coming from? Is it possible they don’t know the rule, or don’t understand the rule? Do they even know this is socially unacceptable? Do they have any reference from their lives that can relate to this situation? How can I help the child to identify their own feelings and approach the conversation in a constructive way rather than punishment.

Jake, it sounds like you’re really frustrated you lost the game, but the girls didn’t cheat. Lets take some time to breathe. Processing and debriefing after an episode of behavior is important to help kids understand why the behavior was unacceptable, and gives them options to choose in the future. “Instead of saying the girls cheated and are stupid, can we say “I’m really mad I didn’t win!” or “I’m frustrated I lost!”?

Children aren’t willfully disobedient. The behavior always has an explanation, hidden or visible. Sometimes children don’t know WHY they act a certain way. Jake doesn’t know why he calls the girls stupid, it just came out. Helping him identify the feeling and debrief to discuss things he could have said is teaching him a life skill to deal with frustration and disappointment for his whole life. Sending him to the corner only teaches him not to repeat the behavior, not why he shouldn’t or give him options for alternative behavior.

Set kids up with tools they can use, alternatives to behavior you’d rather see, and praise the process, the more praise you give to trying, the harder they will. Be consistent, and kind, and above all, even in difficult situations do everything with love.


Stephanie is a nurse, mother, and advocate. Follow us on Facebook Here