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The Gift of Saying No


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In our culture of conspicuous consumption, it is not unusual for children to ask for everything they set their eyes on. And, if we are fortunate enough to have the funds to buy them all that their hearts desire, we tend to think, “I can do it, why not?” There are, however, importance values that our children can learn when we set limits.

Psychologist Susan Newman, PhD, author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It — and Mean It — and Stop People-Pleasing Forever, explains the importance of setting limits:

Saying no teaches children important lessons — how to deal with disappointment, how to argue, how to prioritize, and how to strike a balance between work and play — which are essential experiences that aren’t always taught in school. Kids who understand that they can’t always have their way will be more likely to be successful in school, relationships, and their careers.

In other words, by allowing your child to experience disappointment, you are teaching them how to cope with frustration in the future. If you always give them everything they want, you are setting them up for failure in the “real world.”

It’s all about when and how you say no. If the discussion is about an item that your child wants, whether it is junk food from the supermarket or a new toy that all of his friends have, there are several approaches that you can take:

* Before going to the store, be clear about what you are buying. Talk to your child about why you are going to the supermarket. Explain, “I need to go to the supermarket to pick up food for dinner this week. We aren’t going to buy any junk food, so please do not ask. The answer will be no.” Alternatively, you can tell your child, “I need to go to the supermarket to pick up food for dinner this week. You can pick out one snack that you would like to take with you to school tomorrow. After that one snack, please do not ask for anything else.” Even if your child throws a fit, you must stand your ground. Otherwise, you are teaching him to expect to always get what he wants.

* Allow him to “work” towards a larger present. If there is a large present your child would like (and Chanukah or his birthday is not coming up), create a chart with chores or tasks that he must complete in order to gain it. This way, he will understand that things do not simply fall into his lap and that sometimes he must earn them.

* Teach your child to give. This sounds counterintuitive – your child is asking for something and you are talking about giving? However, when you are not in a toy store, talk to your child (as long as he is old enough to understand) about the less fortunate. Have him pick out several toys that he no longer plays with that he wants to give to others. Then, go with him to a gemach or other tzeddakah agency in order to donate them. Of course, don’t then drive immediately to the toy store so that he can pick out a new toy. However, in the future, you can feel free to say “yes” every now and then to his requests, while pointing out his generosity in the past.

When you can, giving your child what he asks for can be gratifying for both you and your child. It’s when you consistently fail to say “no” that things can get out of hand. So, follow some easy steps and you will be on your way to teaching your child a new skill – how to function even when things don’t go his way.

Below, I have also outlined some other ways that parents can help children step away from the “gimmes” and recognize the wonderful things they have their lives.

Mind your Manners

A great rule of thumb when looking to eradicate entitled behavior and increase appreciation is enforcing manners, specifically “please” and “thank you.” Manners are not merely an important part of civil society; they are also integral to instilling gratitude.

Please: When children understand that they must say please before they ask for something, they are will internalize the fact that not everything is coming to them. They will slowly learn that they need to “earn” what they are asking for – even with a simple word such as “please.”

Thank You: Expressing gratitude – through a minimal phrase like “thank you” helps children understand that someone else provided for them in some way and therefore must be acknowledged. Each time a child says thank you for a trivial thing (someone passing him something at the table or helping him reach an object that is high up), he is recognizing the effort other people make in order to better his life.

Family dinner is a great time to reinforce these simple manners. Because food requires a bracha before and after, eating is a wonderful opportunity to teach children the idea of gratitude. Once they have said their brachos, talk to them about something during their day that they are grateful for. Share something you are grateful for, but be sure to avoid possessions. Instead, choose an event or a person that brightened your day. Of course, this need not be a daily event, but instilling gratitude in your children will do wonders towards cutting back on their sense of entitlement and privilege.

Involve Your Family in Chesed

Even if a child is too young or immature to have empathy, or the ability to place himself within another person’s shoes, he can still feel sorry for other people and appreciate what he has. To that end, getting your whole family involved in chesed projects that help those less fortunate is a win-win situation.

Hands on chesed is generally more effective than having your child give tzeddakah because often your child will have only a vague idea of how money will benefit others. There are many options that you can consider when looking for a worthy chesed: there are soup kitchens, literacy programs, and food drives. Doing community service not only helps children gain perspective and empathy, it can also open their horizons and instill problem-solving skills.

One thing to take into account is that when it comes to counting blessing, or feeling grateful, doing chesed one day is not going to have a lasting effect. Rather, create a routine, such as once a week on Friday delivering challahs to the elderly in your neighborhood. Incorporating a charitable routine will ensure that thinking of others becomes a part of your child’s mind-set. It will establish a set of values and construct a solid base for future experiences.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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