How often do we say NO? For some reason, this two-letter word is deeply embedded in our psyche and vocabulary. It is one of the first words young children learn to declare independence. The word NO is closely linked to the toddler’s declaration of independence. Unfortunately, the original purpose of NO is lost as adults use the word NO as a form of control and compliance.
I recently had a conversation with a young adult who is neurodivergent. He shared that it was difficult in school because his NO was never honored or respected. He explained that adults often interpreted his NO as disrespect or non-compliance. When we do not accept children’s NO, we are taking away their right to define who they are and their liberty to speak for themselves.
When children learn to say NO with conviction, they learn to set essential boundaries that protect them. After all, we want them to say NO when they are invited into situations that can get them into trouble. They will learn to say NO to strangers, to drugs, or to unethical behaviors. I don’t propose that saying NO is the only thing children need, but it is an important beginning to preserve their power. When children know they can control their choices and decisions, they gain a more positive and confident outlook. It is incredible how the word NO is attached to social justice and the importance of speaking up against inequities. So, why do we stop children from saying NO, when it is crucial for their ethical identity?
The Other Meaning of NO
Negativity is real, and it impacts the way we see the world. When children are constantly limited by the word NO, they start to question the meaning of their actions, and more importantly, they wonder who they are and may perceive themselves as less than capable. Negativity may filter into their relationship with others and thus further impact their self-esteem.
Instead of debating whether we must use the word NO to guide children, let’s take a moment to define the meaning of the word. Begin by asking yourself, how often do you use the word NO and why? The word NO has a negative connotation in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The following definition caught my attention because it helps clarify the dialog in this post, “Interjection to express surprise, doubt, or incredulity.” Do children perceive our use of the word NO as a message that we doubt their abilities and capacities? Continue to ask yourself, “Do I need to use the word NO just because, as an adult, I have the power to do so? The answer to these questions may be challenging, yet they are crucial as they will define our future interactions with children.
Recently, I have been reflecting on how often I focus on the negative side of things and how this attitude stops me from seeing hope and innovative possibilities. I am not happy to say that it happens way too often. I have been practicing reframing my thinking and focusing more on the YES, AND rather than looking for the NO. I invite you to notice your perspective about using the word NO and what strategies you can use to shift into a YES, AND mindset.