The Character Movement

The Problem with Saying “Wait” When You Really Mean “No”

When I was growing up, I wanted my parents to let me have a dog. The standard response was, “Wait until next year.” What I think they really meant was, “Over my dead body.” They meant “no” but what they said was, “Wait.” I find myself doing this with Tess sometimes. She’ll want to watch “The Chronicles of Narnia” or “Frozen” for the third time in one day and I’ll say, “We’ll watch the movie later.” But, of course, what I really mean is “no.”

I know why I do this – it’s a stress-free response. When kids hear a “no,” they often feel disappointed, sulk and sometimes start begging. As parents, it’s natural for us to try to avoid this.

The problem is that by saying “wait” when you mean “no,” the very idea of waiting becomes a negative experience. It robs kids of learning that waiting for something heightens our anticipation, which makes the eventual reward that much sweeter. If waiting is only associated with confusion, frustration and an eventual “no,” then the good side of waiting gets lost. It feeds the hunger for immediate gratification. The lessons of patience and self-control that come with proper waiting are crucial to a child’s development.

It’s also not healthy for kids to miss out on a clear “no.” Saying “no” can positively influence a child’s behavior and your overall family life. Dr. David Walsh’s book, “No: Why Kids – of All Ages – Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It” explores in detail the benefits of saying “no” to your kids. It helps teach our children the importance of boundaries and limits – something desperately lacking in our world today. This book builds on Martin Seligman’s groundbreaking research on character strengths and virtues – which include temperance and self-control.

There are definite times when “no” needs to mean “no.” Life is full of possibilities, adventures and choices, but there are times when one must accept limitations and move on. Learning to accept “no” as an answer and respecting your decision to say “no” will help your child well into the future as they navigate jobs and relationships. Experiencing disappointment will also strengthen their ability to cope and increase their empathy towards others.

For the past two years, Tess has been asking for a dog. We’ve told her, just like my parents told me, to “wait.” But we really mean it. We want to get a dog and we’re waiting for the right timing – which will likely be in the next two months. I look forward to seeing Tess’ happy face when we tell her that we’re getting a dog and watch her anticipation grow as we search for the right dog for our family. I hope that this dog will be even more special to Tess because she had to wait for it. And, at the end of all things, I hope that she experiences the positive aspects of waiting.

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