When was the last time someone straight forward told you NO. Like ABSOLUTELY NOT. Straight forward. No questions asked. Even if was over something little (or hopefully not big), how did you feel? Did you hard pause and respond with an “ohhhhkkay” or did it escalate your blood pressure and make you want to argue the hard no? Despite your response- the word NO (and tone of voice and context) most likely created some kind of emotion for you. And complacency is not often the first emotion evoked.
Something intriguing to me is the power in the word NO. Even the slight change to “not yet” or “no thank you” can generate a different emotional response. Keeping this in mind, how can we better navigate our interactions with our kids? Whether in the classroom, at home, or on the field/court, we need to develop our self awareness and language to guide our youth (and selves) to becoming their (our)best. We need to be less angry with each other, less tense in our homes and talk more and yell less.
Sounds good right? Yes. Easy? No. We are all humans and have a brain wired to be alert at all times and when threatened or stressed, we react more often than interact. It takes commitment and brain training (skill/scenario practice) for us to develop our capacity. Yet, like you’ve heard before, if you believe it, you can achieve it.
So let me tell you a little more about the how-to. Going back to the simple NO. If it has to do with safety or imminent danger– disregard ALL of this guidance and be direct as needed. This guidance pertains to the behaviors you’re trying to have less of, eliminate or are just plain tired of. Which brings me to the first step- self-awareness. Be real. Are you tired? Hungry? Maslows hierarchy of needs here. If your “window of tolerance” is barely open, you’re NOT going to be patient and will be quicker to throw the heavy NO out. (And be forgiving with yourself if you do- we really are all humans and respond harshly sometimes when we have unmet needs). Forgive yourself but reflect and try to name it to tame it next time (••you can say that you’re tired and annoyed and need for something to stop••)
Next step, is to take a deep breath and give yourself 2 seconds before you say NO (even if it’s at the store and your threenager is assertively asking for the Barbie). You’ll find yourself saying NO in a calmer voice. Adding in a little “yet” or “thank you” can provide a little cushion and make it easier to move into Step 3: empathize. Delivering and empathetic explanation, helps our children understand that we are not NO machines and that we have reason behind what we say. Something like “I know it’s hard to hear a NO when it’s something you really want,” may lead to them respecting you MORE and be willing to problem solve or set goals if they are able to contribute to a future YES. Side note: if you don’t know exactly what to say, you could simple respond empathetically with a “bummer, I know that’s what you want and I know it’s hard to not get it.” Or even, a “oh bummer, not today,” can lead you to quicker success.
Now let’s talk about the YES. Did you know there is a YES trick?? If someone says something to you that you slightly agree with but want to counter what they are presenting or requesting? Try this sentence stem for response, “yes.. and…(insert respectful addition or counter here)” Now I don’t advise you to use this to one-up BUT it validates voice and respectfully develops the conversation. I also caution the use of “Yes, BUT….” as we may already know this, but BUT discredits your YES (so you might as well say NO). Last caution- don’t say YES with this sentence stem IF you don’t agree with something they said. Be honest. I’m talking about with kids and adults. (Kids are reallllly good about remembering what we say: they are sponges..) Again, this is an example of how we can utilize connection and conversation to create less tension and respectfully navigate our guidance.
Let’s go back to the power in simply hearing the word NO vs hearing the word YES. Daniel Siegel (author of The Yes Brain (and more)) does a powerful thing at his trainings. He will repeat the word NO multiple times (and with different intonations) and ask how the audience felt during that experience. He would then do the same with YES, and reflect on the physiological response. It makes it clear as day. I don’t think any of us would disagree with the fact that simply hearing YES generated a more pleasurable response than NO did. Now keeping this in mind when we are tested daily by our kiddos after our long days at work, it’s important to keep the three steps above (as well as mean reflective) in order for us to communicate effectively and deliver the NO response without a punch but more of a high five. Note to the reader: this can also apply for our spouse and co-workers 💖 And yes, I’ve coached my husband to use it on me too 💖
Bottom line here is, when we hear any sort of ABSOLUTE (in this case NO), our reasoning Brain will deactivate and our emotional Brain will take control of your response. (This is a chemical/scientific thing- not a select-a-mode-in-Brain choice button). Therefore, to keep brain science in mind, we need to first be aware of this (and our response and readiness) before we can gather the muster to develop the language (and composure) to be successful. Now success is NOT PERFECTION– it’s about being a reflective parent (person) and growing from our mistakes.
Lastly, I could write a full summary post about Daniel Siegel’s The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity and Resilience in Your Child book, but I’ll save these for a different day. Yet I believe that this book is by far one of the best for all adults to get (parents, educators, leaders, community members- all y’all). Here’s a link to his book: https://amzn.to/3miv3pk and workbook: https://amzn.to/34sfyFd
And I leave you with this quote from the author himself, Daniel Siegel: