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Let Your Kid Say 'No'

Photograph by Twenty20

When I was growing up, it was common to have an adult insist that I greet someone with a hug and a kiss, or at least with a hello, even if I didn't want to do so. I was a very outgoing child and welcomed any chance I got to talk with adults and never hesitated to greet them "properly."

But today I experience something very different as a parent.

There are many occasions when my son doesn't want to say hello, to hug or to be touched. I've watched my son turn away angrily from strangers as they've asked him with a big smile, "Hello little fella, what's your name?"

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For a long time I'd get embarrassed by his response and try to insist that he say hello. I'd suggest that he was being rude, unkind and even hurting their feelings. He's even done this with my family; once he refused to enter my auntie's home, the home I was raised in. After trying everything to get him into the front door, I eventually apologized to my aunt, who I could see felt badly, and took my son home.

The longer I'm a parent, the more and more I'm confronted with who I was as a child. I may have been more interested in pleasing grown-ups than my son is, but I too had a sixth sense of who was not nice and who could do hurtful things. Watching my son recoil from certain people and situations has begun to teach me about his inner wisdom, and I've started to better grasp that he might be seeing or experiencing something that I just don't understand.

For instance, the home I grew up in has lots of negative memories for my auntie and me, and we really struggle to be kind with one another. My son never wants to go into her home, and on the rare occasion where he does, he holds onto me the entire time.

I believe we should never force children to interact with others when they are giving us clear signals against doing so. Here are 5 reasons we would should not force children to be with people they have an aversion to:

1. Respecting Boundaries

It's important that we teach our children how to respect boundaries and there is no better way to do it than by modeling it on their behalf. When our children say no to interacting with someone, I would recommend that we allow them to make that choice, and take the opportunity to explain that we are doing so.

2. Self-Ownership

We want them to understand that saying, "I don't want to talk or to touch," is perfectly OK because they have dominion over their bodies.

Our children have ownership over their bodies and how they use their bodies. If we want them to understand that, it's our job as parents to teach them. We want them to understand that saying, "I don't want to talk or to touch," is perfectly OK because they have dominion over their bodies.

3. Empowerment

Teaching our children that "no" is acceptable and allowing them to set reasonable boundaries empowers them to use these words and make choices with confidence. There will likely be other times with peers when they want to say no to an activity, and they will have practice allowing and offering no.

4. Self-trust

Building self-trust is important in a big world where information and people are constantly telling you how to think and feel. If you trust your children's instincts and choices, they will learn to trust themselves and listen to themselves.

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5. Intuition

Most children have a great deal of intuition. They may not have language for it, but they have a knowing of many things. For instance, I've met toddlers who are fearful of the ocean, without ever having a negative experience in the sea. Their intuition informs them of its power and inherent danger. Allow your children to own their intuition, and encourage them to honor it rather than dismissing or dismantling it.

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