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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

In a Word, "No"

I'm procrastinating, but just a bit. The truth is, I'm out of spoons (see Spoon Theory if you don't understand the reference) and have been for a few weeks. Normal for this time of year as multiple, big, real-life issues require my immediate and undivided attention whether I like it or not. C'est la vie. I wish everything didn't tend to converge on the same sharp point in time, but it is what it is. Ergo, spoonless. Anyhoo, I thought I might have a little fun addressing one of my pet peeves, and give myself a bit of a brain-break from my stress level. This week's pet peeve, boys and girls, is society's general (and frankly, ridiculous) disdain for the word "no". Perhaps my current spoonlessness was influential in choosing the topic of this post. I'll let you decide;-)

I have been reading SO MANY posts lately on the EEEEEvils of saying "no" to both children and dogs. First, let me give you a heads-up: If your children or dogs don't have a working knowledge of the word "no" and what it means, do not expect me to be around them.  And I am a parent and dog owner, so I'm not just being touchy. Since I live in a building full of children that just went back to school after a vacation (!!), let's begin there:

I just read an article that essentially said that putting limits on children and having behavioral expectations is mean and unnecessary. The article then went on to say that if you don't put limits on children and let them have the freedom to do what they want, then they don't get upset, and we don't want to be the cruel sorts of people that upset our children, do we? Okay, seriously. WTF. This idea scares me on a primal level. The REALITY OF THE WORLD is that there ARE limits. You absolutely CANNOT do everything you want to, just because you want to do it. It's terrifying to think of an entire generation of children growing up with no coping skills whatsoever for the reality of limits in their lives and believing that they can just continue to do whatever they want. Maybe it horrifies me so because I was raised to respect other people as well as myself, to not only think for myself but to incorporate the ideas and wisdom of my elders, and to understand what limits are and to learn not only to work within them, but to know when it might be appropriate to bump up against them. I was a very lucky little girl to have the wonderful upbringing that I had, and I've gotta say, being friendly and polite is a pretty powerful way to open doors for yourself, especially when it's innate and genuine. I am shocked by the behavior of many of the kids I encounter these days, and it makes me feel a bit sorry for them too. They are in for an abrupt and bumpy induction into the world of adulthood. Well, provided they survive being a teenager.

My belief on this topic is this: Raise your children to believe in themselves and their abilities. Love them unconditionally and treat them with respect. Teach them, with love and gentleness, how to cope with the natural limits that life imposes, how to thrive within that structure and to ultimately use it as a springboard to propel themselves forward into well-adjusted adulthood. Teach them good manners so doors will open for them, then others, who won't love them the way you do, will want to help them to succeed. Show them how to treat people by being kind and respectful toward others yourself. What you model for them is far more influential than anything you will ever say. If you are a parent with young children and you subscribe to the 'never say no' philosophy, remember that someday they WILL be teenagers. If you don't have their respect (and I mean respect, not fear. I abhor spanking and believe that teaching through fear is failure) and attention before then, it is your child's safety that is at stake, not just your peace of mind. Trust me, as the parent of a young adult, I know what I'm talking about. I have been SO GRATEFUL for the relationship I have with my daughter. It hasn't always been smooth and I'm never going to win any parent of the year awards, but I'm proud of the person she grew up to be and love the continued openness of communication that we have. 

As for dogs? Well, they don't speak human so they don't really have any negative association with the word "no" unless YOU have created it. In my household, the word "no" is just communication, not the end of the world. My quick-brained pupper would get incredibly frustrated very quickly if I just stood there staring at him while he threw behaviors at me. He doesn't want to just know when he's on the right track, but when he's on the wrong one too. The word "no" doesn't devastate him and crush his spirit, it just means "try something else". As far as he's concerned the quicker he can get to a reward the better, so he seems to appreciate the feedback! We can use that for games, too. I play fetch with Murph in the park each morning. Sometimes, I throw the ball far enough that he loses track of it before he can get to it. I always see where it lands, and can direct him to it by just saying "yes" and "no", kinda like a game of "hot" and "cold". Murph seems to really enjoy it, and I suspect at times that he loses his ball on purpose:-) It was especially fun watching the faces of a construction crew (there to build a baseball field) as I directed Murph to his ball and he totally understood what I was doing! I get the premise of giving a dog something positive to do instead of just saying "no" to an unwanted behavior, but there needs to be some common sense applied too. Like children, dogs need to understand limits and to learn impulse control. For some dogs a soft touch is absolutely required, but others need something more. All dogs are simply not created equal, they are not robots, they don't all respond the same to the same training methods. And I have 20 years of experience to back that up.

Ultimately, the reality is this: Neither children nor dogs innately know how to behave within the rules, and they need for YOU to teach them and prepare them for life in the real world. Not to do so is to fail them.

Phew! I DO feel a bit better:-)

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