21/12/2014 22:41 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

No Needs To Mean No

No needs to mean no

Sick of seeing (some) other people's children running amok, our columnist and parenting writer has decided enough is enough.

I've already harped on about how in 'The Old Days' parents ruled with a rod of iron: when mum or dad said no, you knew they flipping well meant it. Often there was also an implied or stated addition of "and don't you even think about giving me lip and questioning my decision or you'll be in for a proper clip round the ear." Some old-fashioned parents replaced the whack with a glare so scary that it was enough to make you practically fear for your life.

This level of dictator style parenting probably was a bit over the top and maybe it did quash kids' spirits but it was clear there was no point pestering on and on, and on and on as some offspring do today. Everyone knew where they were up to. The word no well and truly meant no.

In the modern family meanwhile, it seems to be the done thing to hold hugely democratic debates with our children which, not always but often, end with the parents caving in and changing no to yes.


We're all a bit busy and all a bit tired and sticking by your guns is quite an effort.


Take this example witnessed in my local newsagents recently. A little boy of about five and his mum had walked in at the same time as me and I overheard her say something like 'now remember we're not buying any sweets today, so please don't ask for anything'. I was quite impressed that she'd set boundaries in advance of any pester power turning up.

Shortly afterwards though, the boy picked up his choice of sweeties and was asking for them in that persistent, terrier like way many small children employ. She stood by her 'no' at first but then, with the air of someone who'd just experienced a few rounds in the ring with an Olympic boxer, caved into his pestering. Lo and behold the little chap walked away with a huge dimply grin on his face and a bag of Haribos in his hands.

Now of course this isn't the world's worst thing a parent ever did but it wasn't only about him getting that bag of confectionery: the mum totally undermined her authority. I understand that it's easier to say 'yes' than 'no' –I've been there too - and especially so when you're having a bad day but we need to look at this 'short term pain, long term gain' idea again here.

The little boy concerned now has the message that if he carries on enough, his mum might change her mind. Her 'no' has started to mean 'maybe if you're persistent'. By giving in that one time, she's then opened the door to a lot more pestering.

Had she stuck by her guns – even if he'd cried or done one of those little kid sad faces that are hard to resist – he might have thought 'hmm she said no, she means no. Maybe I'll drop it.' She'd have effectively reinforced the idea that, to coin a phrase seen in the news of late 'the mum is not for turning'.

The New Old-fashioned Parenting rules: on saying no

  • Only say no if you are willing to stick by your decision. If you aren't quite sure yet, try and say so or 'let me think about that for a minute', otherwise the word loses its power.

  • This isn't about being a dictator parent: there are ways to do it that are kind and positive but still create those all-important boundaries. You can add an explanation – in fact very often you should. It helps children understand the world and that it's not just about what they want. So if you say 'no, I'm sorry you can't have the toy because I haven't got enough money' eventually it might sink in that they need to consider that and not just desperately wanting that toy.

  • But make sure that the reason you give is watertight enough for older, wiser, smarter kids who will try and answer back and argue the point!
  • Under the above scenario, stop any discussion when you want to, not when they want to. IF they're arguing the point, claiming that actually they don't have too many toys already, declare "end of discussion. If you carry on, I won't be listening to you." or similar.
  • Remember the New Old-fashioned Parent mantra: long term gain for short term pain. I know it's harder to say no when your kids really, really want something or to do something but if you are convinced your decision is the right thing for their long term happiness, stick by it. YOU are the parent and your say should go.

Old old-fashioned parents (OOPs) versus new old-fashioned parents (NOPs) versus Modern Flakies – which kind of parent are you?

OOPs just said "no". Any attempt to argue was met with sharp words at the very least.

NOOPs say "no" but explain why so their kids understand the reasons. What they don't then do is allow a huge debate if they are not going to change their minds.

Modern Flakies say "yes whatever you want princess", especially if their kid does one of those cute pleading faces.

If a child has been told no but then goes ahead and does whatever anyway...

OOPs gave them a thrashing/ smack/such a scary shouting at that their child ended up quivering in the corner of the room.

NOOPs look and say that they're disappointed, give them a good talking to so they understand what they need to do/ not do next time and withdraw rewards/ privileges appropriately.

Modern Flakies smile, shrug their shoulders, raise their eyebrows and declare 'ah bless, he never listens to me'!

Liat Hughes Joshi's book based on these columns, New Old-fashioned Parenting, is published by Summersdale/ Vie.