Parenting 101: Why 'Instead' Works Better Than 'No'

"Instead" is Pazen's statement of philosophy for raising children. Read this and you'll have a good idea of her approach to most situations.

If you want your child to be the best he or she can be, be your child’s mentor—not adversary. Be an active parent, set goals and consider parenting a full-time job.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to have been raised with respect, in which case you most likely have self-esteem and may not need to read this article. The rest of us can integrate respect into our personalities with practice. Consider the cordial nature with which you relate to strangers. Then, practice carrying that way of relating to your nearest and dearest.

Realize that there is no ownership in your relationship with your child. Your child is a totally different and valuable human being, and if you treat your child as valuable, self-esteem will grow on its own.

This does not mean that your child gets to do whatever s/he wishes. Additionally, your method of setting limits and helping your child to learn to make good decisions independently is what “parenting” is all about.

A parent needs to be mindful of what a child must learn at certain ages. For example, one of the skills to be mastered by a 6- to 12-month-old is to release something he has grasped. (The grasp is called the palmar reflex; you’ll see it immediately after birth. When a new-born child’s hand is relaxed and open, stroke the palm. The infant automatically grasps at the stimulus.)

While it seems simple to you and me, watch the 6- to 12-month-old child. Until "release" is in the baby’s neurological trick bag, letting go is random. Then slowly, the baby releases by reaching for something else. (Spilling is common for this age.) Finally, the child learns to release with no other stimulus and can gently let go of objects.

If you watch a child at this age, you’ll note that the baby seems to enjoy playing a game we called “into and out of”—especially with really fun things like the garbage (if left where the child can reach it.). When I noticed my son crawling toward a waste basket or the kitchen trash, I’d grab a plastic bowl and small, harmless items (spoons work well). Then, I’d engage him in a game of transferring the items in and out of the bowl.

I never said “NO” (or worse “no, no, no”) to my son nor to my daughter; I substituted a developmental activity INSTEAD. My children are adults now and they will tell you that I’d make the substitute sound fun and say, “Why don’t we (fill in the blank) instead?”

Building on the example above, if you were to ask a 5-month-old to give you what she’s holding, you’d be wasting your breath. But, knowing that the child has no notion of what you’re asking, you could begin to practice cooperation by saying, “May I have that, please?” and gently prying her fingers open. Then, through positive reinforcement (“Wow!  Thank you!”) you can start laying the groundwork for kindness between your child and yourself, between your child and others. For a 6- to 12-month-old, try to exchange items.  (“I’ll give you these ___, if you’ll give me that ___.”)  You’ll be helping your child to learn to release and to get along well in the world.

A child who shares and cooperates is a child who feels comfortable that there are enough resources for everyone. But realize, the path to becoming comfortable is paved with experiences.  Direct your child in a positive way.  A child who won’t share or cooperate may be a child who has already learned that items will be taken away and not returned.

Truly, tell your child what you want him/her to do. Avoid telling your child what you DON’T want. A child told to listen to the music will understand what you want;  A child told to shut up won’t know to listen, only that you’re displeased and disrespectful.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Melissa Pazen February 05, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Thanks for catching that, Sarah! If I NEVER said "no", then I probably broke another of my rules. Never say NEVER. But do I make my point? Tell your child what to do vs. tell your child what not to do. Invite your child to solve the situation vs. limiting your child's options.
Melissa Pazen February 05, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Keyuri, EXACTLY on point. Thanks.
Kelly Karius February 05, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Nice job. I agree with Keyuri. I don't think I did it as well as I could with my kids, but I definitely tried. Your article makes me think of the response we have, even as adults, when someone starts off with the big 'no'!
Jamie L. February 06, 2012 at 11:19 AM
I can think of few things more damaging to the healthy psychological development of a child than a parent that never says "no." While it is true that no means nothing to a child during the early stages of infancy, it becomes a good and necessary tool as toddler-hood begins. An infant quickly learns that its own ego supersedes that of all other people it comes into contact with. It is a natural first stage of infancy, and not to be lamented. But as an infant matures it is also necessary that he learns that other people (i.e. mother and father) have egos (desires) of their own, and that his own ego has to be sometimes curtailed. Example: you're standing at the check-out counter of a grocery store and your 2 year old asks for a candy bar. You tell him that he can have an apple when you get home. Now he demands the candy bar and starts to scream and cry for it. At this point there is no healthier response that child can receive than a simple no, without any further explanation. Example: consider your toddler sitting by your coffee table. He begins to rip pages out of a magazine. This is a prime example fo a child testing the limits of his control over people, and again, a simple no without explanation is a better response than offering that child a old newspaper to rip up instead. The meaning of the word "no" is critical in a child's development!
Melissa Pazen February 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Jamie, I've been so deep in thought trying to craft a response that I've been remiss by not thanking you for your opinion! We all have opinions and that's what this type of forum is all about.


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