As many of you know, I have an only child, a son. Even though I’ve written books about the power of saying no to your children, I concede there were times when even I didn’t take my own advice. Yes, I said yes to my only child’s requests and stepped in or gave in.
I “bought” many of my only child’s excuses and much of his “sweet talk.” His stalling and “weaseling” worked. He was a master of shirking responsibility. His claims of “I forgot” or “I’ll do it later” were frustrating.
Often it is more efficient, faster or easier for a parent to handle many of the things an only child is perfectly capable of taking care of himself. Too often, we see a child’s requests as “must-dos” that go at the top of our lists. “Covering for” an only child is a trap many parents fall into. Assisting in what you think are supportive ways is more likely to indulge or enable your son or daughter. In so many ways giving in when your child requests that you do, not only does your only child a disservice, but also feeds the only child stereotypes that unfortunately still loom large in our culture.
If you are trying to raise an independent, resilient, considerate only child, something I believe is every parent’s goal, below are 29 instances when you should be saying NO to your only child. Most are situations in which you would not pick up the slack or acquiesce if you had more than one child. When they arise in your family, ask yourself, “Would I or could I do or allow this if I had more children?”
This list covers times and instances your child requests or ask you to help her out or give her permission. Although they also apply to children with siblings, they are particularly important refusals for only child parents to make. Parents of one tend to be more readily available and have more time to do the things their child wants or learns to expect of them.
Don’t underestimate what your only child can do. You will want to be sure your child follows through on the things below, adjusting for age, ability and maturity if you hope your only child will become independent, self-confident and resilient.
29 Situations that Call for a NO
- Bringing his dishes from the table to the sink and/or putting them in the dishwasher.
- Doing her chores such as making her bed, setting the table, washing the dishes (and when older the pots, even if you have to redo them), raking leaves …
- Calling to make a play date.
- Stepping in to solve conflicts or arguments with friends.
- Picking up her dirty laundry and putting it in laundry basket or bringing it to the washing machine.
- Allowing a television in his bedroom.
- Asking for more time on “screens.”
- Assisting with an assigned project or homework for school to the degree that you are doing more than she is.
- Calling grandparents, aunts, uncles or other close relatives to wish them Happy Birthday or happy holidays.
- Skipping a family celebration or family reunion to do something with a friend.
- Making or signing his name to greeting cards.
- Promising to do what you asked later.
- Feeding her dog, cat or fish.
- Cleaning his pet cages.
- Walking the dog.
- Driving her forgotten lunch, books or assignment to school.
- Signing up for another activity that will put him — and you — on overload.
- Calling to accept or turn down her friends’ party invitations.
- Buying an excessive number of toys, gadgets or clothing or one thing you feel is too expensive.
- Putting away the toys your child played with.
- Cleaning her room.
- Writing a handwritten “thank you” note or “thank you” email.
- Staying up later at night.
- Having his cellphone in his room at bedtime.
- Giving up a night out with friends because she wants you to stay home.
- Wanting the last piece of pie, slice of cake or scoop of ice cream (share it).
- Explaining to the teacher why his homework or project isn’t completed.
- Stopping what you’re doing to help her do her chore.
- Skipping a practice or scheduled lesson, a sporting event or performance.
The Bottom Line
Of course, there will be times you make exceptions when your child requests it and it’s reasonable, but the bottom line is: Only children — actually all children — learn valuable lessons when parents say no and stick to it — from respecting authority to accepting responsibility, from following through on commitments to understanding that the world does not revolve around them. In short, only children benefit when parents say no. The problem is some parents can’t or don’t use the word frequently enough.
Are you too much of a yes-parent? Click to find out.
This article was adapted from my book, The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say It and Mean It—And Stop People-Pleasing Forever