Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

“Why not?”
“Yes, sir!”
“You got it.”
“Uh huh.”
“Of course.”

There are so many different ways in which we say “yes.” We say “yes” to our children, to our spouses, to our bosses, and to the piece of cake sitting on the counter.


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, important 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 children 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 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 that 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 that present. 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 tzedakah 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.


Essentialism: Saying “No” in Your Own Life

Saying “no” is not just about saying “no” with your kids, it’s also about saying “no” in other areas of your life in order to have a fuller, more successful life. How does this work? In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown explains that essentialism is the “relentless pursuit of less but better.” He continues:

            “The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say ‘no’ more, or about pruning your in-box, or about mastering some new strategy in time management. It about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?’ There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital. The way of the Essentialist involves learning to tell the difference – learning to filter through all those options and selecting only those that are truly essential. Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”


How do you successfully find what’s essential? McKeown makes three suggestions:

            Use extreme criteria. When faced with a decision to take on something new – set a high bar. Figure out whether it is something you are passionate about, whether it taps your talent, and whether it’s going to make a difference in the world. Sounds extreme? It is, but you’ll probably end up doing a better job and therefore be more successful in the long-run.

            Ask yourself, “What’s essential?” Don’t just say “yes” to everything. Instead, pause, take a moment to reflect, and ask yourself, “What’s essential?”

            Avoid the endowment effect. People often value things more if they own them; this is called the endowment effect. Don’t get caught up in owning things for the sake of owning things. Instead, question whether the object or job truly has value.


Register now for a Social Thinking workshop by Michelle Garcia Winner on November 16, 2016. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, 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 [email protected].